The world premiere of Robert Earl Price’s All Blues, directed by Dale Daigle, opens the 32nd season for Atlanta’s 7 Stages. Few theaters would approach producing such an upfront and bold piece of theater, which fits in nicely with 7 Stages repertoire. This in-your-face look at race and the impact of Jim Crow can be unsettling at times, but it’s lyrical beauty and unique staging make those parts easier to swallow.
For this production 7 Stages has partnered with Washington College of Chestertown, Md., resulting in the play being double cast. The Washington College cast consists of students, actors local to their area, and 7 Stages’ own Del Hamilton, who will also lead the Atlanta cast.
Based on Ray Sprigle’s experience of disguising himself as a black man for 30 days to document the Jim Crow south for a newspaper, the play blends poetry, dance, song, film and vignettes to tell the story. A simple set, designed by Faye Smith, provides the necessary background for the play’s staging.
Video images, designed by Marta Wesenberg and Corey Holland, accent and complement the action on the stage, showing Hamilton or scenes from old Hollywood movies that depict stereotypical views and minstrel shows. In addition to the video footage, historical images flash across the screen, giving the audience a view of the sadness of the Jim Crow era. The video and photographs add a punch to the already powerful thrust of the play.
To bridge scenes together, a chorus comments on the actions of the scene, much like a Greek chorus. With masks painted in blackface, they also provide, at times, a satirical and almost uncomfortable look at stereotype as they joke around as if in a minstrel show.
All the actors on the stage deliver commendable performances. As Sprigle, Hamilton’s solid acting grounds the play. Like other plays in Atlanta this fall, the beautiful sounds of a supporting actress are not featured enough (Serenbe Playhouse’s Shipwrecked!, Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s Panhandle Slim and the Oklahoma Kid, Horizon Theatre’s Tree). Karen Somerville’s vocals are soulful and inspiring as she sings “All Blues” and other standards. Starting on the September 29 when the Atlanta cast begins, Dorothy B. Bell will take over for Somerville.
The color blue, a symbol of sadness, permeates the show. From Blues music to the actual color being forced on the cast and audience through Josh Schulman’s creative lighting design, the horrors of Jim Crow become unsettlingly real. An audience member cannot sit passively and enjoy escapist entertainment; this show makes people think.
While not for those looking for a traditional drama, All Blues provides a thought-provoking night of theater. The issues and depictions in the play will continue to resonate with you after you leave. All Blues plays at 7 Stages Theatre through October 9. For tickets and more information, please visit www.7stages.org.
– Kenny Norton