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Review of Cry, Blueberry at The Cockpit Theatre

Cry, BlueberryIs this a case of ‘first world problems’? Isaac Solomon Loew (Richard Canal) has, in a nutshell, loved and lost: already, as far as the old adage is concerned, he’s done better than those who have never loved. But here’s the thing – he’s not sure that he ever did really love, having been subjected to one of those lousy, traumatic childhoods that beat out of him, physically and metaphorically, what could be reasonably assumed to be love.

There’s a critical incident, not revealed until fairly late in the show. The details of that particular incident remain relevant to contemporary society decades after the events in Cry, Blueberry, which I found quite sobering. Let’s just say the Black Lives Matter campaign came to mind.

There are, arguably, two critical incidents in the play, though I would count the other one more as a culmination of events rather than a complete bolt out of the blue, even if it does catch Isaac by surprise. A whole range of human emotion is expressed in a passionate performance, a result of Isaac, with a stage name of Blueberry, not being able to properly release his true feelings until this point, for reasons explained during the show.

The plot has, at a macro level, the hallmarks of a country and western song, and if Cry, Blueberry were performed in reverse chronological order, Blueberry would have quite a lot restored to him. Thoughts and reflections are shared with the audience mostly in measured tones; perhaps the pace could have been a little faster from time to time. That said, the predominantly steady rhythm of storytelling heightened the moments of anger and frustration, or joy, or just plain sadness, all the more. In the opening scene, a message of hope rings out as though Blueberry were a motivational speaker, or a television evangelist, such was the palpable fervency of the moment. Elsewhere, a late harrowing scene was powerful enough to evoke an audible audience response.

This production is certainly not one for the fainthearted – not for nothing does a post-show questionnaire ask patrons, amongst other things, if there was anything about the performance that caused offence or made people feel uncomfortable. As far as yours truly is concerned, ‘No’ to the first question, ‘Yes’ to the second – it would be giving too much away to specify here to the extent the questionnaire asks, suffice to say it’s not nice seeing someone else suffer, even a character on a stage.

Canal has a deep, rich voice, which contributed to establishing and maintaining audience rapport, and he has the sort of baritone dulcet tones that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The concentration on a single character, combined with a strong script, keeps the show grounded and focused. From this foundation, a large number of themes are drawn, providing much food for thought. I liked the details in the plot – off-stage characters are given names and identities, and the background information, be it about brothels or religion, far from being superfluous, reinforced the storyline’s credibility.

The removal of Blueberry’s makeup is the sort of metaphor about taking the mask off to reveal one’s true self that feels like it’s been done before. But, all things considered, this is a brutally honest and sincere confession, and a profound and memorable performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It is November 16th, 1932. The Depression is at its greatest, and vaudeville – the roaring heartbeat of the ’20s – has ceased to beat. The audience enters upon a secretive, undiscovered place: where one’s nose is warmed by that earthiness found only by the Mississippi. A dead oak haunts the scene, and around its roots lies strewn a colorful collection of liquor bottles. Under the tree’s canopy is a dressing-room mirror. Distant and muffled, there is applause and laughter, clacking feet and happy ballads; but such joy is some otherwhere, some other-when; the tree marks this ground a haunted one.

A clown enters the scene. It is Isaac Solomon Loew, a Jewish Mississippian performing as Blueberry, the happy-go-lucky Pierrot, on vaudevillian Broadway. Wrestling with guilts of times bygone, he frequently flees from his pain not only into performance, but also into sex. His increasingly addictive escapes have finally lost him his wife, right as he loses his employment. He enters his dressing-room for the last time; and as he pours his heart out to the audience, shedding his painted mask and hanging each bottle from his tree, he wrestles with his memories, mistakes and misdeeds – either to their conclusion, or his own.

Cry, Blueberry
Written and Performed by Richard Canal
15th to 19th January 2018
http://thecockpit.org.uk/

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