Guthrie stages Black joy with 'Blues for an Alabama Sky'

a man an a woman sit down together and smile
Lamar Jefferson (left) and Kimberly Marable portray Guy Jacobs and Angel Allen in the Guthrie's production of "Blues for an Alabama Sky."
Courtesy of Dan Norman

Correction (Feb. 6, 2023): An earlier version of this story misspelled Kimberly Marable's last name.

As the Guthrie Theater continues their 60th season, the Wurtele Thrust Stage has turned into a 1930’s Harlem apartment for Pearl Cleage’s “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” 

Brittany Bellizeare, who plays social worker Delia, describes it as “a timeless play” that handles social issues such as racism and economic hardships. While it takes place in the 1930s, Bellizeare says many of the themes are still relevant.  

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“I think it's very important and a very provocative story to be telling now for people to see that connection, and how it hasn't really changed that much,” Bellizeare says.  

Local actor Lamar Jefferson, who plays gay costume designer Guy Jacobs, says the plot hinges on the lives of the characters as they struggle during the onset of the Great Depression.  

“It's people fighting for their chosen family with all their might,” Jefferson says.  

"Blues for an Alabama Sky” follows the lives of four African Americans living in Harlem at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance as they fight to achieve their dreams and find happiness. This is further complicated when a mysterious southerner comes to town and falls in love with the show’s female lead, out-of-work lounge singer Angel Allen.  

scene of a play
The cast of the Guthrie's production of "Blues for an Alabama Sky" (from left to right): Darrius Jordan Lee, Brittany Bellizeare, Stephen Conrad Moore, Kimberly Marable, and Lamar Jefferson.
Courtesy of Dan Norman

Themes tackled in the show include abortion, women’s rights and homophobia. For Kimberly Marable, who plays Angel, the play is important not only for the subjects it explores, but also its portrayal of the Black community. 

“We're still trying to be seen in our entirety as a community, as a culture,” Marable says, “Even though [the play] happens in 1930, [in] 2023 we're still dealing with the same inequities.”  

Marable says that acting in the play is comforting, knowing the play comes from the perspective of a Black female playwright. 

“What I love about this play is that we actually see some dreams come true, which is not the norm,” Marable says. “And I think that it's really important for people, for theater-going audiences, to recognize that there is Black joy, that we do experience joy when we do have our dreams come true and hard work does pay off.”  

Jefferson also praised the narrative of the show for having the central relationship of the show be between a Black cisgender gay man and a Black cisgender woman.  

“I think [that] is something that we as a community need, speaking specifically to the Black community,” Jefferson says. “We think about the Harlem Renaissance, we think about these fabulous things. But those were, those a bunch of queers running around up there ... that's [where] all that art and shine and back excellence came from.”  

Aside from “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” the Guthrie has already produced a season heavily featuring playwrights of color, including season opener “Vietgone,” the world premiere of “Sally and Tom” and the second year of staging a new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”  

Hyunmin Rhee  and Eric Sharp are among the cast
Hyunmin Rhee (left) and Eric Sharp (right) are among the cast in the Guthrie Theater's production of "Vietgone."
Courtesy of the Guthrie Theater | Dan Norman

Bellizeare hopes that in the future, more and more playwrights of color will be produced at the landmark theater, as well as other theaters. 

“I think it's very important for this not to be a phase,” Bellizeare says. “Theater is a learning experience for me. And I feel like a lot of people who are artists use their art to provoke and as their revolution. And I feel like if we don't give that opportunity for that to be seen on stage, every time there's an opportunity, then we're, then we're in a disservice of ourselves.” 

“Blues for an Alabama Sky” opened last Friday and runs through March 12.  

Correction (Feb. 6, 2023): An earlier version of this story misspelled Kimberly Marable's last name.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.