March DC Report Topics
by Les Gutman
Review: Blues Rooms
Grasping for a word to describe what makes this collaboration between Dianne McIntyre and Olu Dara so successful, I've settled on "charisma". It is immediately obvious that both of these performers have that seemingly undefinable quality in abundance.
But what does it mean? The Greek root of "charisma" translates as another difficult-to-define concept: grace. My dictionary provides a laundry list of meanings for "grace," and I like the first of them as a way of explaining Ms. McIntyre: "elegance or dignity of form, movement or expression". In this case, grace is married with an engaging sense of humor. Olu Dara's appeal -- he is a multi-talented musician, a songwriter and a storyteller -- is just as strong. What's perhaps most remarkable is that these two riveting personalities have found a way to nurture and enhance each other, never competing for our attention.
Blues Rooms combines in two acts what previously had been two shorter works. The first (which alone could perhaps more properly called Blues Rooms) received a concert performance at Symphony Space in New York in 1996. It explores "the Blues" on a journey through the rooms of a house. The second act, known as A Brand New People on the Planet, is a McIntyre/Dara duet consisting of three short scenes -- two elegant stories and a work of science fiction; its 1997 presentation at Aaron Davis Hall's African-American Performance Art Festival received a Bessie award (for dance and performance). This is the first full production of the combined work.
The first act begins with a pair of artful overtures offering distinct, divergent suggestions of the sources of the Blues and a hint of the attractive and inventive staging and visual effects to come. After introducing McIntyre, Dara and a recurring melody, the trek through the rooms begins. Dara and the rest of his exceptional band, Phil Taylor (guitar), Mathew Coates (bass) and Eric Johnson (drums), arrive as a part of the "Fish Fry Blues," which features Bobo (Dwayne E. Murray) and the rest of the ensemble. Dara flows adroitly from singer to guitarist to storyteller. (Later, he will shift to the harmonica and cornet as well.) As we follow Bobo into the "Living Room Blues," Mcintyre's talent for comic, revealing narrative punctuated by the liquid metaphors of her choreography, blossoms. We see fresh examples in each room (a decidedly different tempo in "Kitchen Blues" including a winning performance by Bernie Alston as Aunt Earlie Mae, the wickedly funny "Dining Room Blues" in which McIntyre's terrific idea of inviting her two competing suitors to dinner together backfires, "Bathroom Blues" and "Bedroom Blues"). In the finale, "Front Porch Blues," the cast is reunited and we begin to appreciate what Dara (wearing his musicologist hat) writes about the diversity of the natural five note scales of the Blues: "[t]here's an unlimited number of rhythms and melodies that can be categorized as the Blues". As the cast recites, "[w]e could tell you a thousand stories, ...[of] a thousand blues rooms, ...a thousand skies and a thousand guys."
The second act opens to reveal the comic irony of an African-American Cleveland Indians fan and his offended Native American wife, their battles and their reconciliation. It is followed by a poignant piece with a homeless couple and then the show's least successful scene (set in the future) which could have been an impressive epilogue stripped of the excess baggage of its voice-over dialogue. Perhaps spoiled by the well- integrated theme of the first act, the random nature of the second disappoints. It's not that the work in each scene is less-than-excellent; it's that there is no common thread.
In concept, Blues Rooms (the first act) is mildly reminiscent of the highly successful Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk (see CurtainUp's take in the links below). It seeks to illuminate the Blues as Noise/Funk addresses "'da Beat" of tap. It is perhaps more poetic, which makes the failure of the second act to further enlighten all the more incomplete. The two halves never quite align as one whole, but this is still a not-to-be-missed joy.
James Kronzer's simple but impressive set, focused on five massive wooden doors with panels that open to reveal (usually brief) glimpse of various members of the ensemble in a way that brings to mind the famous doors utilized so successfully on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in the 60's, perfectly frames the staging. Suzanne Jackson's costumes work exceptionally well with the fluidity of McIntyre's choreographic style, as does the lighting with which Martha Mountain has alternately bathed the movement or backlit it for particularly effective silhouettes.
by and starring Dianne McIntyre and Olu Dara
with Keith Johnson, Bernie Alston, Karima A. Miller, Shireen Dickson and Dwayne Murray
Choreographed and staged by Dianne McIntyre
Set Design: James Kronzer
Costume Design: Suzanne Jackson
Lighting Design: Martha Mountain
Theatre of the First Amendment, TheaterSpace, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax (703) 993 - 8888
Web page address is shown below
March 18 - April 5, 1998
Reviewed by Les Gutman
Although I announced a review of this play, a part of Source Theatre's Aftershocks program, for Part 2 of the March DC Report back in the early days of the month, alas, it was not meant to be. If possible, I'll include a review -- or at least a report -- next month.
Soft Click of a Switch "The best laid plans of mice and men..."
CurtainUp feature on Bring In Da Noise Bring In Da Funk
Links to Web Pages Mentioned in this Report