It was an incident Shay Youngblood would always remember. She was driving on a practice en path to finding out with playwright Paula Vogel when she picked up a duplicate of The New York Instances and noticed a picture of a Black baseball participant with a price ticket round his physique. The trend she felt at seeing stated man with what she seen as his humanity being denied fueled her subsequent play.
The practice incident was in 1992 and by the subsequent 12 months she had written Sq. Blues. It’s taken a while nevertheless it’s now getting a world premiere at Horizon Theatre, operating by means of August 21. It’s a posh and highly effective comedy-drama, even when it may use extra readability and structuring.
Sq. Blues follows three generations of activists over the course of 1 summer season weekend in 1992. Odessa (Olivia Dawson) is re-opening the Atlanta-based Fifth Avenue Completely happy Café, a soul meals eatery and a spot the place civil rights activists met within the ’60s. It has been left to her by a White Russian-Jewish man who was the love of Odessa’s life within the Forties. Their son Sq. (Jay Jones) has been gathering names on a petition that calls for Black pay again, in addition to ready for an apology for slavery. Sq. (someday additionally referred to as Blue within the script) has acquired a Black reparations tax credit score from the IRS, however they’ve now despatched him a be aware demanding reimbursement, and Odessa is apprehensive that he’s not taking the matter significantly and that the café may very well be misplaced.
Sq.’s daughter Karma (Chantal Maurice) is relationship Lola (Patty de la Garza), a Latinx poet who’s attempting to persuade Karma to maneuver to California. Karma’s personal type of protest is attempting to convey consciousness of points resembling homelessness, LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS through efficiency artwork utilizing nude fashions and spray paint. She is making a behavior as of late of getting arrested afterward, nevertheless.
The opposite central character is Miss Tuesday (Parris Sarter, filling in for Marliss Amiea on opening night time), a farmer who’s Sq.’s love curiosity and an activist herself.
Horizon has mounted a number of productions written by Atlanta-based Youngblood, together with the extremely profitable Shakin’ the Mess Outta Distress in 1988. Sq. Blues was set for a 1993 debut at Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis, as a part of a season of Black ladies playwrights, however was finally canceled, as was a lot of that revolutionary season, due to the conservative local weather. It was devastating for Youngblood, for the reason that play had followers resembling Anna Deavere Smith and Edward Albee, and he or she moved on from the work. However after returning to Atlanta three years in the past after dwelling in every single place from Mississippi and New York to Spain and France, she has dusted it off, made some adjustments and workshopped it to get it prepared.
Directed by Thomas W. Jones III (in his sixteenth Horizon manufacturing as a author, actor or director), that is an observant play about how activism adjustments through the years and the way every era decides to take its personal form of stand. It isn’t an indignant work, both, with some comedic and lighter moments.
Throughout the play, Sq. paints a wall of resistance mural contained in the café that includes modern-day heroes and activists. It’s convincingly staged, as Karma’s work is later projected onto these partitions. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have designed the café, and Robbie Hayes handles the shifting inside wall projections.
Penned 30 years in the past, Youngblood’s work is potent and as topical as ever, resembling Karma’s observations that she at all times will get arrested for what she does, whereas her White girlfriend doesn’t.
The playwright has created some fascinating characters right here, who’ve all been activists but whereas using totally different strategies. Dawson is a quiet, proud heart, taking care of her household and attempting to carry them collectively whereas nonetheless mourning her misplaced love. There’s a pleasant parallel right here between her and the person she couldn’t legally marry due to her race and her granddaughter’s personal relationship with a girl of a distinct race, in a time the place same-sex marriage had not been legalized.
The character of Sq. is fascinating. He’s a single father doing the most effective he can for his household however cussed, with Odessa and Miss Tuesday pleading with him to repay the IRS cash. Whereas he’s unapologetic as he continues to gather names and anticipate justice, he has misplaced a little bit of persistence at having to bail his daughter out of jail for her convictions. Jones coaxes pure and convincing work from the forged, though de la Garza’s efficiency is lower than animated.
But this doesn’t move as naturally because it may. This comparatively quick (90-minute) two-act leaves you wanting extra, particularly between the characters. The protests are thrillingly dealt with by Jones, however the play’s dream sequences are oddly staged and detract from the story. A number of the subplots, too, really feel rushed, as do the conflicts between the members of the family.
Whereas the play’s ending has a way of unhappy inevitability, it misses the prospect to make an actual emotional mark.
Youngblood has taken out a number of the sexuality and nudity by the protestors from her earlier model, in addition to tweaked the ending. It’s now a refined play, possibly a bit of too refined. I might like to see the unique 1992 work staged in some unspecified time in the future.
Sq. Blues is as related as any play on an area stage proper now and options some noteworthy appearing, particularly by Jones as Sq.. Too dangerous, although, that regardless of its intriguing and well-drawn characters, this works higher in particular person moments than it does as a cohesive complete.
Jim Farmer covers theater and movie for ArtsATL. A graduate of the College of Georgia, he has written concerning the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the competition director of Out on Movie, Atlanta’s LGBTQ movie competition. He lives in Avondale Estates together with his husband, Craig, and canine Douglas.