Photo by Carol Rosegg

Can one be fired for ” For cussing out a short-ˇtempered gangster in the middle of an up-ˇtempo production number?” If you’re Angel Allen (Alfie Fuller) at the Cotton Club in 1930s Harlem, the answer is “yes.”

Angel is the central figure in Blues For An Alabama Sky, Pearl Cleage‘s beautifully written play which, surprisingly, is receiving its first New York City production since its’ 1995 premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre.

LA Williams directs this Keen Company revival about the determined denizens of Harlem during the renaissance, a period from the twenties and thirties when artistic and intellectual expression exploded among the African-American community.

Cleage’s elegaic script, complemented by You-Shin Chen‘s beautiful set design introduces us to characters who were obviously present, but not necessarily celebrated during the neighborhood’s rebirth. Even within their own community, they proudly and defiantly carved their own paths.

Angel, a scrappy, job-volatile jazz singer, resists the common practice of attending church. Guy, (John-Andrew Morrison) her roommate, is an openly gay designer who hopes to design clothes one day for Josephine Baker while their neighbor Delia (Jasminn Johnson) is working with Sam (Sheldon Woodley) on abortion and family planning issues.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

And then there’s Leland (Khiry Walker). He’s the conservative, widowed gentleman from Alabama who is falling in love with the wrong lady and fighting against the inevitable spirit of those around him. 

This character study is rich with humanity and humor, offering hope and inspiration against the backdrop of the depression. Cleage infuses her story with real-life figures, adding an even deeper level of truth to her tale.

Asa Benally‘s costumes are period-perfect. So is Lindsay Jones‘ original music, which elegantly captures the aesthetic of the time.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Williams has assembled a fine cast here, but his character choices for entrances and exits seem, at times, to be a bit muddled.

Nonetheless, Keen Company has once again delivered a special gem to Off Broadway’s Theatre Row. Artistic director Jonathan Silverstein and director Williams deserve additional praise for being the first theater company in New York to produce Cleage’s fine work. 

Blues for An Alabama Sky runs through March 14th at Theatre Row (West 42nd between 9th and 10th). For tickets and information, click here.