Pearl's Gone Blue
nytheatre.com review by Ryan Emmons
August 12, 2011
From the moment the music started and the lights came up on Pearl's Gone Blue, I felt transported to the hot and sticky South of the 1940s. It's amazing what three mason jars filled with cola, a few wooden crates and some paper fans can do (to the credit of David L. Arsenault, the set designer)! Daniel Urlie's impeccably executed costume design adds to this theatrical time machine too, with clothing that is understated, but exact to each detail of the 1940s. To actually see straight pins in a dress that was being "hemmed" on stage felt almost revolutionary. All of this stage magic works wonderfully because it is supporting acting, a book, and lyrics that are exceptional.
Pearl's Gone Blue is the story of a young schoolteacher, Seddy, who is swept off of her feet by a blues musician, Beau. Seddy's best friends Bell and Tiny warn her about this young musician, but Seddy continues on her path to the blues. All of the characters have dreams and desires and the play calls into question how practical that is for an African American in the 1940s in the South.
The actors in Pearl's Gone Blue are the most talented and evenly cast I have seen in a fringe theatre show. Billy Eugene Jones starts the show off with a blues number expertly sung into an old fashioned microphone. His portrayal of Beau is sufficiently pompous and masterfully tortured by his own success and lack thereof. Roz Beauty expertly goes through Seddy's wide character arc with a strong stage presence and an impressive voice for blues music. She acts with her entire body, creating tension, sensuality and action in every moment she is on stage. Benja K. Thomas's Bell is spot on, both comic and stern. She delivers a monologue in Act Two about a person's right to dream that could draw tears from a stone. Pamela Monroe also gives a stellar performance as Tiny and brings great strength to a character that could easily be a side note. Tiffany Thompson has one of the best voices in the cast and plays Mary and Georgia so well, that I did not realize it was the same actress until I checked my program. Mary is an upwards moving blues singer who Beau latches on to in an attempt to ride her coattails to fame and Georgia is a friendly and helpful neighbor whom Bell despises.
Julie Kramer's direction creates a FringeNYC production that is in every way a professional piece of theatre. She has directed the actors in a way that makes you love them and hate them all at the same time. Kramer has a grasp on the power of subtlety and allows the work to speak for itself simply, which makes it all the more poignant. She infuses a desperation and sexual energy that makes scenes absolutely scintillating. The first dance number between Beau and Seddy is absolutely spot on. Leslie Kramer has written a fine book. The dialogue is poetic and not of today—it belongs in the 1940s and is hypnotic and irresistible to listen to. There is something shocking about how close it is to the language we speak today, but how distinctly different it is for the world of this play. This combined with Gabriel Gordon's emotional and earthy score creates a play that really transforms the theatre into the world of the 1940s South.
The show does embrace the pace of the South and the first act moves fairly slowly without any major event happening, but the second act picks up with quite a bit of drama to go around. I wish something had been dangled at the end of Act One to make me eager for Act Two. Perhaps even a quick flash of Beau with Mary to get the audience fired up? I also wonder what message Pearl's Gone Blue is aiming for. I was left unsure of what the play was getting at, other than that we are all human and all flawed.
The real joy of Pearl's Gone Blue is the obvious care and love that has gone in to creating this play. The trust and collaborative spirit of the cast is a joy to watch on stage and I felt honored to watch something that I knew people cared about. I believed everyone on stage knew they were apart of something special and never took that for granted. It is the spirit of the play that is uplifting, even if the message might leave you feeling a little lonely.