Cleveland, Ohio — “Paradise Blue” by Dominique Morisseau paints a picture of 1949 Detroit. It is a dramatic yet often entertaining journey through the lives of five people from the Black Bottom community.
If you are familiar with the scenery of Detroit, you will not find it difficult to believe the raw, pure honesty of the Morisseau’s characters.
Blue, portrayed by Dyrell Barnett, owns Paradise, a jazz joint welcoming boarders. He is a member of a jazz trio, playing his trumpet with the same energy he implements in other aspects of his life. He seems to be rather defensive because of several traumatic experiences he had early on, which reflects in a way he confronts others. Blue is prepared to land a blow with little warning to anyone who challenges him.
Pumpkin, portrayed by Latecia Delores Wilson, is Blue’s girlfriend. She is also his housekeeper, cook, and defender.
Pumpkin resembles June Cleaver, except for lacking a pearl strand and having orthopedic shoes and talent for poetry. However, everyone generally ignores her talent, except for Corn, portrayed by Darryl Tatum, a member of the jazz band Blue is in.
Corn assumes the role of a mediator among the rest of the characters. He particularly shines in cases of disputes between Blue and P-Sam, portrayed by Drew Pope, when he manages to ease the situation. P-Sam is another member of the band. He plays percussion, which is where the P in his name originated from.
Silver of New Orleans returns to Black Bottom and finally ends up at the Paradise club in search of a room.
Silver is a sassy-mouthed female with tight clothes. Her pompous walk says confidence, guns, and money.
The design of the stage evokes the scenery of the era. Photos hung above the bar present Billie Holiday, Jackie Robinson, and other African American idols. A stage designer collected the majority of those at a photographic exhibition of images from the time period.
Men in baggy trousers and fedoras, and women wearing slightly tilted saucer hats and jackets with shoulder pads complement the general impression of authenticity.
According to a professor of acting and directing at Oberlin College and the director of the piece, Justin Emeka, the relationships represent the key point of the production. He states that one of the biggest trials of doing a period piece is connecting the importance from the past to the present day and inviting the spectators to witness themselves in a certain period that represents an obscurity to them.
As stated by Emeka, the crucial part of his job is getting the actors to immerse themselves in mannerisms and traditions that may not be specific to their time. According to him, the actors must be conscious of their contemporary demeanor and manage to free themselves from it.
Racial slurs are not uncommon in the play as they represent an essential element of Morisseau’s writing. However, the N-word was not merely added for the effect since Morisseau is famous for being a rather careful writer. Her intention was to capture the subtlety of a very distinct community.
The play deals with intra-culture hostility permeating the African American community. Morisseau used the slurs to examine the hostility more closely. Emeka says that she is among his favorite living dramatists.
Morisseau is not unfamiliar with Ohio. She has visited Oberlin College several times over the years with the purpose of teaching a class, as well as seeing one of her own plays directed by Emeka.
Morisseau also wrote the book for the Temptations musical, “Ain’t too proud,” that is currently on Broadway.
Subject: The play written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Justin Emeka.
Time: Through Sunday, October 20.
Location: Karamu’s Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., Cleveland.
The price of tickets ranges from $20 to $40. You can purchase your ticket by calling 216-795-7077 or visiting karamuhouse.org.