Let TimeLine Theatre Take You Back in History
Upon entering TimeLine theatre’s intimate space, audiences immediately find themselves transported into a jazz club in the 1940s. That club, located in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, is Paradise, owned and operated by Blue (Al’Jaleel McGhee), a gifted trumpeter harangued by demons. Over the course of Paradise Blue’s two acts, we will learn of the club’s financial troubles; Blue’s dreams to escape and start a better life with his girlfriend, Pumpkin (Kristen E. Ellis); and the potential neighborhood buyout from the city which threatens the inhabitants of Black Bottom. Pumpkin has steadfastly remained at Blue’s side, even amidst his volatile, emotional outbursts, predominantly because of the way those passions are exorcised through Blue’s trumpet. However, when a mysterious woman named Silver (Tyla Abercrumbie) arrives and rents a room upstairs, the fate of the Paradise and its inhabitants are disrupted.
Paradise Blue Features Powerful Beginning
At the beginning of the play, McGhee stands in the center of a small stage, framed by green curtains. He’s lit evocatively, and, as he plays the trumpet, his music reverberates throughout the theatre. Christopher Kriz’s sound design supports several moments like this, and they are highly memorable. The moodiness of Orbert Davis’ jazzy original music reverberating as McGhee wails away on his trumpet effectively sets the tone for the play, an impressive preamble foreshadowing the drama yet to unfold.
Design at TimeLine Theatre Creates A Believable, Symbolic World
Brian Sidney Bembridge’s design, which includes both the lighting and set, is a major component of creating a believable, 1940s milieu. The two-level set encompasses the entirety of the space, comprised of a bar, tables, stage, and stairwell leading up to the guest room which Blue rents out to Silver. Even when unoccupied, the guest room--with its red curtains--is bathed in dim light, suggesting Silver’s presence and the effect it is having on the relationships of Paradise’s regulars. Up until she appears, however, Parson and his creative team smartly and symbolically keep the room dark
Director and Cast Anchor Paradise Blue
Written by Dominique Morisseau, Paradise Blue is an engaging production, largely because of the fine direction of Ron OJ Parson and his talented cast. While the script sometimes feels a bit uneven, and its characters’ motives could be more fleshed out in a few scenes, Parson and the cast mostly overcome the textual limitations in Morisseau's otherwise compelling piece. In the role of Blue, McGhee deftly balances believability and anguish. While we can fully empathize with his character, at the same time we worry for Pumpkin and the others in the club, as his outbursts give way to larger and larger explosions. In a particularly harrowing scene late in the play, Blue is overcome with an especially violent attack from his personal ghosts. The scene is lit darkly, increasing its intimacy and effectiveness. McGhee’s handling of this scene is raw and unnerving, specifically when coupled with Ellis’ heartbreakingly determined attempts to comfort the troubled musician whom she loves. Paradise Blue pairs evocative writing with a strong ensemble, evocative design, and solid direction to create a story of one man’s desperation and its effect on the actions of others.
PLEASE NOTE: Peanuts are consumed onstage during the show, and the production includes scenes of violence, multiple gunshots and strong language, as well as the use of e-cigarettes and haze.
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Paradise Blue runs through July 23rd.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
TimeLine Theatre Company
615 W. Wellington Ave. Chicago
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.