A TALE OF gentrification and blues where sex is the underlying parlance and song lifts the dialogue into a different realm, Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue is an African American foray into the complexity of the future for a 1949 Detroit club owner. The production, directed by James Ngcobo presents an astonishing mix of breath-taking beauty and blunting mediocrity that is in dire need of editing.
Blending the skill of an absolutely sterling cast, with the wonderful Aubrey Poo in the lead as Blue, the work, on paper, is a joyous paean to the skill this country boasts. Sne Dladla is in fine voice and character, as is Lesedi Job, as the mysterious sexy stranger named Silver.
The work offers a gloss on a whole range of issue ranging from racism in 1940s America to the sexist values of the era, from internal demons to money pressures in a night club under the squeeze of gentrification. The imposed Detroit accents of the cast, so syrupy that meaning becomes more of a challenge than you may like, make the narrative threads in this piece very fragile very often.
The music is beautiful, but alas, insufficient to allow this work to fly. As it is, the piece sits uncomfortably between being a jazzy delight and a social drama. It’s also too long: clocking in at close to two hours, the piece ticks over very slowly and once you give up on the hard work of holding the threads of the plot together, it seems even longer.
Also featuring the potent Pakamisa Zwedala and Busisiwe Lurayi, as Blue’s counterpart and his girl, ‘Pumpkin’ respectively, the work is staged with beautiful set and lighting decisions which bring you, in the audience into the heart of something which could potentially be a balm. There is a powerful denouement in the piece which evokes that in Victor Gordon’s work Brothers, currently on at the Market Theatre as well. But sadly, the complexity of this tale and the obvious directorial urgency to make it say everything pulls its value as a stage work down and the ordeal in watching it to the very end, compromises the experience it offers.
- Paradise Blue is written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by James Ngcobo. It features design by Luyanda Somkence (lighting), Tshepo Mngoma (musical direction), Nadya Cohen (set), Nthabiseng Makone (costumes), Kholofelo Sewela (sound), Yewande James (accent coach), and stage-managed by Tiisetso Mawane-Madzhie, it is performed by Seneliso Dladla, Lesedi Job, Busisiwe Lurayi, Aubrey Poo and Pakamisa Zwedala, with live music by Mpho Kodisang (piano) and Sakhile Nkosi (bass), until March 1 at the John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre Complex in Newtown, Johannesburg. Call 011 832 1641.