Court Theatre Sets the Stage
Get ready to be transported to Harlem just as the Great Depression looms with a superior script and even better acting.
You walk in and there she is, Josephine Baker—THE embodiment of fashion, style and hip, giving a sultry look from her perch in the center of the apartment.
No, it’s not Paris, where real-world Josephine, the Beyonce of her day, then resided as the queen of glamour. She is on the wall, dazzling from a poster, a North Star of sorts for some we soon meet, ever looking for ways to navigate beyond their current circumstances.
We are in a Harlem apartment building just as the Great Depression is dawning. Every décor detail— from wallpaper patterns, to woodwork trim, to period perfect divan chairs, and the grand Josephine Baker —puts you in this time and place completely. Soaking in the set design (Scenic Designer Linda Buchanan) before the curtain begins, you can’t help but be impressed. Later however, you too might note how the staging of the scenes with actor entrances from the very back of the theater down corridors slow to cross, somewhat gets in the way of this powerful cast and stand-out script, (Playwright Pearl Cleage) repeatedly slowing down action or distracting focus.
That might be the one nagging defect in a great story brought to life by a super-talented cast.
Meet mercurial Angel (played by Toya Turner) and her best friend Guy (Sean Parris), whose close relationship was born in Savannah, Georgia. They share this Harlem apartment together. Guy dreams of using his tailor talents as a passport to Paris. Angel, not much for dreaming, is ever on the prowl for opportunities to keep hard times at bay. The would-be meal ticket she discovers is an Alabama man Leland (played by Geo Walker), whose simple church-born ways keep him from zeroing in on Angel’s true character.
Next door is a dreamer of another variety, Delia (played by Celeste M. Cooper) who has joined with Margaret Sanger to bring radical family planning clinics to Harlem. And in and out of these dreamers’ lives we meet a 40 year-old doctor (played by James Vincent Meredith) who is ever hoping to let the good times roll, fueled with a lot of drink and song, to help him erase the stresses and sleep deprivation of his days trying to keep his patients alive.
Actors infuse their characters with feeling of REAL
These are very real characters each defined by this script in just a few lines. The actors bring them to life with great skill. We see some characters change and grow before our eyes, and others just let their troubled soul get very naked. Every performer though makes their character feel very real.
Almost Eerie Echoes with Today
However, the true power of this play- almost eerie as you turn the experience over in your mind the next day— is how almost shockingly relevant the issues it raises are to our world today. Homophobia, gun violence, how people change when facing narrowing opportunities during an economic downturn, and the equivalent of Planned Parenthood office bombings—these themes are all there even though the script is 1000% true to the mindset of Harlem denizens of that time.
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through February 19.
Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 PM
Fridays: 8:00 PM
Saturdays: 3:00 and 8:00 PM
Sundays: 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM