Paradise Blue is perhaps the more famous in the trilogy of plays called The Detroit Project written by award-winning African American playwright Dominique Morisseau. The other two are Detroit ‘67 and Skeleton Crew and what these plays share in common is how they are focused on unpacking the socio-political history of Detroit, USA though the lived experiences of the African-American community. Morisseau’s other plays include Sunset Baby, Pipeline, Blood at the Root and Follow Me to Nellie’s.
Supported by The U.S. Mission to South Africa in commemoration of Black History Month in partnership with the Market Theatre, Paradise Blue is in some odd way a perfect choice in how its central story of gentrification is reminiscent of the forced removals in the South African context i.e the forced removals of Sophiatown, Johannesburg which took place from February 1955 and of District 6, Cape Town which took place from 1968.
Directed by James Ngcobo, Paradise Blue is gem a of production and is an ode to that now world-famous soundtrack of the African American life – Jazz! The central character in the play ‘Blue’ played by renowned actor Aubrey Poo is a jazz musician who is also the owner the jazz joint Paradise Club, located in a part of town called Black Bottom, in Paradise Valley. Supported by an equally illustrious all-star cast in the mould of Pakamisa Zwedala (P-Sam), Seneliso Dladla (Corn), Busisiwe Lurayi (Pumpkin) and Lesedi Job (Silver), the cast delivers top drawer performances which are mesmerising as each of them not only nail the African-American accent but flawlessly depict the complex yet colourful characters who all find themselves squabbling either directly or otherwise over not only ownership of Paradise Club but ‘Blue’s secret decision to sell to the Detroit City Council.
What Paradise Blue shows is that challenges facing communities where African-Americans live are not new and they are certainly not unique but just that the stories have not been ‘humanised’ enough such that they don’t just show an unflattering snapshot of life in but also the resilience of the people living in those communities!
Paradise Blue written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by James Ngcobo performed at the Market Theatre from Friday 31 January – Sunday 1 March 2020