Paradise Blue – Review by Joshua Gorero

Set in the mid-20th century, Dominique Morisseau’s “Paradise Blue,” which is showing at the Long Wharf Theatre, not only captures the need of family and community in times of great trouble, but it also captures the immense pressure and various obstacles that many groups of people, particularly those from racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, have to face.

Blue (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is an owner and the lead trumpeter of a jazz club in Paradise Valley, which was a district in Black Bottom, a predominately Black neighborhood in Detroit. As the owner of the club for a couple of years, Blue wants to be the focus of attention when he and his band members perform, and with the expectations he gave himself since the death of his father, Blue strives to do his utmost best. However, as his fellow band members Corn (Leon Addison Brown) and P-Sam (Freddie Fulton), and his girlfriend Pumpkin (Margaret Odette), observe, it seems that he has lost the soul and spirit of his performances. With the ongoing financial and political situations occurring within the region, Blue and the rest of the community in Black Bottom are concerned with the fate of Paradise Valley, and with the entrance of a mysterious woman by the name of Silver (Carolyn Michelle), more problems occur.

Director Awoye Timpo selects a wonderful cast for this production. Williams, who plays Blue, performs with the sense of pride his character would exude, for he stands upright and struts about the stage when he is among others; but Williams also performs his character with the sense of frustration his character would also exude, for in times of frustration, he paces around with his head slightly looking down and uses more hand gestures and other sporadic actions when he is alone or when among the rest of the cast members.

Brown, as Corn, plays the father-like figure in Blue’s life, for he talks in a composed and caring manner with Blue even in times his character could have been annoyed with Blue’s actions and emotions.

Fulton, who plays P-Sam, brings much life to the story by trying to stay positive and by the contagious laughter and happiness he provides, but, at the same time, he performs with the sense that some do not fully acknowledge his presence, for in some instances, his head is drooped down when he is around others who are talking among each other and are not involving his character in the conversation.

Odette, as Pumpkin, performs the reserved and innocent individual, for when she encounters thrilling circumstances, she is giddy and gives a smile or smirk. Pumpkin has her own opinions regarding the situations occurring in Paradise Valley but does not express them, and Odette shows her character’s struggle to keep her opinions to herself by restlessly moving about the stage, doing whatever work she may do.

Smith, who plays Silver, performs as Blue’s challenger, for she also walks in a confident manner, and she additionally acts with a fierce and sophisticated attitude. She enunciates her words, which are sharp at times, and with her hand gestures and body movement, such as putting her hands to her waist, Smith gives the character a powerful presence.

The costume design by Lex Liang shows the differences and parallelisms among the characters. Corn, P-Sam, and Pumpkin wear clothing of pastel yellows, browns, and tans. On the other hand, Blue wears clothing in various shades of blue, which shows his egotistical nature. Silver wears clothing from a variety of bright colors, which shows that the character wants to stand out. Unlike Corn, P-Sam, and Pumpkin, Blue and Silver wear clothing consisting of different colors, once again showing the parallelism of the two characters.

The set design by Yu-Hsuan Chen is capturing and brilliant. The use of corrugated metal slabs as the walls alludes to the heavy industry base in the city of Detroit. The design of the club provides a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere with the tables and chairs surrounding a large open space. Cleverly, the production takes place in two settings that transition back and forth: the club and one of the club’s guest rooms. When a scene takes place in the guest room, the large backwall of the club opens up, and the guest room set slides out from the back toward the front of the stage. Not only does this provide efficiency when there needs to be a quick set transition, but it also provides an amazing way for the audience members to solely focus on the new scene.
With a great cast and an innovative set design, “Paradise Blue” at Long Wharf Theatre is a dazzling and intriguing production that all should see.

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