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It is rare that the main character evoke so many emotions in a play, they have you rooting for them and simultaneously against them.
If there was an era I could live in, it would be the Harlem Renaissance; to be in the thick of it and to see Black creatives thrive in their element… what a time it must have been to be alive. to dream the impossible dream and still hold on despite society telling you otherwise. Harlem Renaissance must have been a moment when people dared to dream and dared to believe with the guts to chase up on it. Angel, a showgirl who has lost her show for calling out her gangster boyfriend in front of crowd, and his missus, and Guy is her gay best friend designer with dreams of dressing Josephine Baker in Paris. They live across the hall from Delia who only wants to enlighten women on birth control and family planning following the onset of the great depression. Sam is their doctor friends who harbours feelings for Delia besides being best placed to help her get her dream off to a start considering he sees the effects of poor family planning and how it affects tired women.
Set in the last golden days of the Harlem Renaissance our leading Black artsits are fleeing to Paris to keep their dreams alive, meanwhile back home dreams are barely holding on, rent is past due and the next day’s meal may or may not come. We meet Angel and Guy post riotous night before when her Italian mobster boyfriend is most certainly done with her, and it falls on Guy to see her through yet another phase. He has been here before. Cleage takes us there in this rich and gutsy play. There is a gun so we know at sometime our comforted realties whilst living in this era, will be punctured and tragedy will ensue but in the meantime, leading right to the senseless tragedy is such vibrant fun in this house that struggles against the heatwave ripping through the city that sees neighbours convene on stoops for laughs, catching up, and drinks, whilst ensconced in a world slowly fading into something they will soon not recognise. Guy and Angel, played by Samira Wiley, are the perfect ying and yang. The designer whose liberal lifestyle and design savoir-faire provides the audience with good banter and jokes but soon becomes a point of contempt when his liberalism clashes with Leland’s conservatism; a very North-South divide. Leland, whilst also courting Angel, embarks on seeing her in his own image of conservatism from the south as opposed to the liberalism in New York.
Sam dear Sam, is the lynchpin for the characters, even before we meet him our curiosity is peaked. He is the doctor with whom Angel has history and the one who Delia will hope to build a future with. Sam the multifaceted, liberal who has no qualms partying at night, and performing abortions for women whilst helping Delia set up a family planning clinic. He is the character through which others can view themselves, flittering from door to door, between Delia and Guy’s apartment, whose own life will alter the course of events to come.
Delia was the character with my favourite arc, she the ever loving conservative introvert who wants to do good for society, takes a chance on herself takes a chance on herself, letting Guy rob off on her some, after suffering such loss. In one hand her dreams were crushed and with the other she receives and dares to go for it, on a whim, a prayer and couture gowns along the way.
The end whilst tragic was satisfying all the same, my sympathies for Angel was hard to come by and I felt in no way did she deserve Guy’s friendship or the chances she was given to make a go of her life. When it was all said and done, the friendships is reduced to rubble not by the changing world outside of the brownstone but by small mindedness and hate allowed to fester from within.
A mirror for our times if there ever was one.