Blues on the Home Front
By Lynn Dirk, GLOB Content Editor
Last weekend was very busy, so it was not surprising that the audience at the 2pm Sunday matinee for Papa's Blues at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre was quite sparse. Fortunately, the show will be running through Oct 28, so people still have an opportunity to see this excellent production. The story of generational family dynamics intersecting with historical tragedy and progress is compelling.
In this play, the history is that of race and civil rights and how it has molded an African American family over time –with the music of the blues serving almost as a Greek chorus but also as an emotional release for the audience as well as the characters in the play. This story is about a family walking a very thin line between denial of overwhelming experiences and staying positive to keep love alive and give each other the best life they can. Under the direction of Rhonda Wilson, the all African-American cast does amazing work weaving between the day to day expressions of family ties and scenes of intense, very moving drama. Also, the technical aspects of the play – set, lighting, sound, and costumes – come together superbly to bring you into the home of this family.
The first act is light and almost breezy, which gives the audience a chance to get to know the characters and care about them: a matriarchal grandmother (Brenadette Harper), her son (Turbado Marabou) and his wife (Amanda Edwards) and son (Bryant Smith at 9 and Charlie Brown at 22). Another character, the grandfather who was a civil rights activist, is always there, large as life, in the form of a picture on the wall that is always in a spotlight – literally and figuratively. Clearly there is some kind of undercurrent between the matriarch and her son, but it's easy to think it's just the usual tensions you would expect to occur in any family dealing with racism and poverty. In the 2nd act, the plot thickens as a mystery unfolds –a literal skeleton in the closet is revealed.
It was synchronous that I attended the play with a friend who the day before had attended one of those other many events going on that weekend – the UF Association of Black Alumni Celebration, "50 Years of Black Alums." Serving almost like the flip side of that celebration, Papa's Blues portrayed the sacrifices that made the progress of black alums possible. Seeing Papa's Blues brings home, literally, why civil rights is so important for individual families and for the family of the human race.