This is not my first time seeing a play by Dominique Morisseau. Recently, I attended a production of Sunset Baby at TheaterWorks in Hartford and loved the way Morisseau was able to touch on topics such as drugs and crime in such a matter-of-fact and believable way. After really enjoying Sunset Baby, I had high expectation going into Paradise Blue, at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, having already been familiar with Morisseau’s work. Yet again, she served an enjoyable play with a thrilling plot.
With a soulful and continuous jazzy undertone, this play is set in Black Bottom, the real-life African American area of Detroit where nightlife thrived. This production focuses on the specific nightclub, Paradise Valley, that doubled as a hotel on the upper levels. The conflict surrounds Blue (Stephen Tyrone), the club owner and head of Paradise Valley’s jazz band, who is secretly trying to sell the club. When a certain bombshell named Silver (Carolyn Michelle Smith) comes to stay at the club, she expresses interest in buying it and uses many different tactics to get what she wants by seducing and manipulation.
Director Awoye Timpo does a wonderful job making the characters so incredibly well-defined. Even if there were flaws in their make-up, and the lines blurred as to whether they had good or selfish intent, the audience quickly knew the personalities of all the principles. On top of that, Morisseau provides great material to accompany such distinct characters. One stand-out actor is Freddie Fulton, providing much of the comedic relief of the show in his portrayal of P-Sam. He brings so much realness to his role and has a clear character arc that was easy to follow and not so far-fetched.
Another noteworthy mention about this production is the set design by Yu-Hsuan Chen. Upon walking into the room and seeing the set, it is evident that there is a clear vision and realistic design, which still reflects a calming feel that juxtaposes with the plot. The most impressive element of the set, that even earned its own applause from the audience, was Silver’s hotel room being revealed on top and from out of the nightclub. It was quite impressive.
The mood of the play echoes in the music: jazzy, bluesy, sexy but unquestionably wistful. It may even have a “twilight-zone” quality. The production introduces an era and location that was destined to be gone, along with the innocence of one of the main characters. You want it to end well but in your heart-of-hearts you know that couldn’t be the case.