REVIEW: Doo-Lister’s Blues (National Pastime Theater)

Remembering the Blues

 

 Doo-Listers Blues - National Pastime Theater 2

   
National Pastime Theater 
   
Doo-Lister’s Blues
   
Written by Terry Abrahamson
Directed by
Victory Cole 
at
National Pastime, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through November 28  |  tickets: $30  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I remember the west side in the 1960’s up close and personal. My grandparents lived down the street from WVON and just south of Madison when it went up in flames. Doo Lister’s Blues is a recreation of that time from one family’s point of view. Playwright Terry Abrahamson has attempted to put that time in a capsule with the burgeoning new Black music scene as the dramatic focus.

Doo-Listers Blues - National Pastime Theater 3 Doo is a barber on the West Side who is trying to keep things together. He and his wife want to adopt a baby. They present the perfect couple on paper. He is a business owner and she is a schoolteacher. Warren Levon plays the part of Doo with an understated grace and sweet humor. Lucy Sandy plays his wife Maria with a perfect counterpoint of common sense to Doo’s dreamer style. At the opening of Act I the riots are already in progress and Doo has remained in his shop to protect it while sending his wife to the relative safety of Maywood. Life is just okay and his shop is safe until a force of nature named Rebecca walks into his shop offering to set up a record business as a side gig. Victoria Abram-Copenhaver is perfect in the role of Rebecca, projecting the idealism and fearlessness that I recall about some of the White activists that appeared in the neighborhood when I was a kid. Unbeknownst to Doo, Rebecca is having an affair with his younger brother Buck. Buck is a 4F draft dodger with the FBI on his tail.

Doo wants to be a songwriter but his songs are treacle about chocolate love and candy kisses. Actually, the songs are a pretty funny motif to the first act. Mr. Levon is a portly man reminiscent of Barry White in his romanticism and looks. Rebecca shows no interest in his songs and yet gives him encouragement to change the scope of his music.

Terry Francois plays the role of Buck Lister. I have seen Mr. Francois in MPAACT Theatre productions, and he brings the same excellent crafting to the role of Buck Lister. Buck is doomed on all fronts. He is hiding in a garage in Uptown where he works as a valet. Add to the mix his relationship with a White girl. That is no big deal now but it was called miscegenation back then and was outright illegal or cause for violence. Mr. Francois plays the role with a light humor and grace that makes him even more horrible end even sadder. Agent Jewel Moton, played by Damien Crim, is in hot pursuit of Buck Lister. He is the rare Black agent and sent in to talk sense to the family ‘Negro to Negro’. Mr. Crim handles the role quite well. It is a hot potato of political and social implications. Agent Moton has advanced in his career, but he has become what we used to call ‘The Man’ and is not to be trusted. Mr. Crim displays, with marvelous subtlety, the emotions of a man conflicted and yet dedicated to his job at the same time.

It’s Act II where the play picks up steam and really delves into the music and Cultural Revolution that was the result of the violence. After the murder of Buck, Doo adopts a Black Revolutionary stance. He wears a dashiki and skullcap and the tone of his music changes. Kenneth Johnson plays the role of sidekick Catfish and he gives Doo a gentle ribbing while still being supportive. Mr. Johnson does well in the underwritten role. I wish that his character had been fleshed out more. Part of the play’s conflict resides in the angry turn that Doo’s music has taken.  I clearly remember the music of a group called ‘The Last Poets,’ and his music gives homage to them. My next-door neighbor would put her speakers in the window and blast the lyrics to the neighborhood. The music encouraged an uprising as well as pride in one’s roots before ‘Roots’. There was the exhortation to fight the cops, and Stokely Carmichael screaming ‘burn baby burn’ supported it. The production does a fine job of portraying those times and the consequences of the so-called revolution.

Doo’s music cannot be played on the radio because it could incite more riots. His wife loses her job for consorting with her own husband. One disc jockey agrees to play the music and Agent Moton gets to him. Rebecca goes on the run with the master tapes and Doo Lister ends up in jail for daring to practice the Constitutional right to free speech.

Doo-Listers Blues - National Pastime Theater 4 Doo-Listers Blues - National Pastime Theater 6 Doo-Listers Blues - National Pastime Theater

The National Pastime Theater Ensemble does a fine job reproducing the sights and sounds of the times. The barber/record shop is spot on with the Black Power fist in the window. Upon closer inspection there is the classic Huey Newton poster that displays the legendary Black Panther with a spear and a rifle. (I still have his albums.) Even the sounds of the scratchy AM radio sounded wonderful to me.

The company needs to work out some lighting cues. Before we were let in we were told of sound cue problems. That was not the case but the glaring house lights came up each time a scene changed. Another glitch was the insertion of the rapper between scenes along with the multimedia display. I presume that it was supposed to show the roots of rap going back to ‘The Last Poets’ but it felt ham-fisted and sounded even worse. Rapper Al Mayweathers held the microphone too close, obscuring any clarity of his words. It may have been to make the play more relevant to younger audiences but it served more to disjoint the rhythm of the action. History is cyclical; perhaps today’s rappers have a similar frame of reference, but it does not blend well with the story or the action.

Director Victor Cole makes good use of the supporting cast.. The characters appear in expressionistic light as if frozen in time. It’s a good way to present the police and corporate entities that served to suppress freedom of speech and expression in music. That time in history has so many layers that one two-hour play could not cover it without skimming over important facts. Abrahamson has selected wisely to focus on one family while perhaps inciting people’s curiosity to look up some of the other facts about Chicago during this time.

For the most part, Doo Lister’s Blues provides a thoughtful and enjoyable couple of hours with Chicago’s history. My companion and I were abuzz with memories about that time, which is definitely a nice side effect.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Doo Lister’s Blues runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 28th. The National Pastime Theater is located at 4139 N. Broadway in Chicago. For more details call 773-327-7077 or log on to www.bluesonbroadway.com

Doo-Listers Logo

          
        

 

Production Personnel

 

Creative/Technical Team

Director – Victor Cole

Stage Manager – Jessie Whitington
Scenic Designer – Zach Perrault
Costume Designer – Mina Hyun-Ok Hong
Lighting Designer – Amanda Clegg Lyon
Properties Designer – J. Tyler Burke
Sound Designer – Scott Redmon
Technical Director – Joseph Loffing
Fight Choreographer – Brian LeTraunik

 

Ensemble

Victoria Abram-Copenhaver
Don Claudin
Damien Crim
Terry Francois
Kenneth Johnson
Colin Jones
Mark Habert
Albert Mayweathers
Warren Levon
Lucy Sandy

Playwright Bio

Terry Abrahamson

Storyteller, Designer, Songwriter, Satirist, Filmmaker, Photographer, Playwright, Illustrator, Chicagoan, Basketball Coach

Terry has written for Oprah Winfrey, John Lee Hooker, Joan Jett, Clarence Clemons, George Thorogood and won a Grammy for “Bus Driver,” one of three songs he penned with Muddy Waters.

The 1999 workshop production of Doo Lister’s Blues, directed by Victor Cole, won Terry the honor of being the first Caucasian playwright performed at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History.

His book of original Chicago Blues Photos, “In the Belly of the Blues,” is in the permanent collections of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS.

His original play, with original music by Terry and Michael Carlson, The New Orleans Jazz Funeral of Stella Brooks, will have its world premiere at the Provincetown (MA) Tennessee Williams Festival 2010. Terry and Michael are also collaborating with director Buddy Reeder on the upcoming musical production How to Beat a Bully,
in partnership with The Little Theater on the Square.

He also created Chicago’s longest-running adult musical comedy revue, Kama Sutra, directed by Buddy Reeder, which has appeared at The Mercury Theater, The Apollo, The Royal George, Theatre Building Chicago, Davenport’s Cabaret and Northwestern University.

Terry’s produced screenplays include Dead Awake with Stephen Baldwin and Wilder with Pam Grier and Rutger Hauer. He also co-wrote “The Heart of Me,” film history’s first Lesbian Love Song for the film “Jailbird Rock.”

Terry’s first produced stage creation was The Brat Race, a musical comedy about four couples desperate to get their kids into Chicago private schools.

“Hannukatz Saves Hannukah,” Terry’s first illustrated children’s book, is set for a Fall 2010 publishing, to be followed by “Snow Weiss & The Seven Jewish Dwarfs” in 2011. His comedy corporate/event videos include Pimp My Cubicle and I Was a Teenage Potato Latke. Terry has lectured for the Chicago Public Schools on Blues History, and has taught at California State University and Northwestern University. He is a proud product of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and, later, of Amundsen High School.

        
        

3 Responses

  1. actually when i saw the show als part was a perfect wrap up. i didnt think he held the mic to close at all. i as well as the others i cam with heard every word that every one said in the play. there was one old lady who didnt know what was goin on at all but well our elders tend to miss a lot at their age.

  2. The selective service classification in 1966 was “4F”, not “F4”, and if brother Buck really HAD been 4F, it would mean that he was “unfit for duty” and he wouldn’t BE evading the draft.

    It’s a small mistake, but I call attention to it in order to show that not ALL of the elders ” tend to miss a lot”.

    • thanks Mary for the heads up – we just made the change. Glad to know we have elders looking out for our site that go against the trend of elders who “tend to miss a lot”. 🙂

      thanks so much for reading Mary!

      Scotty Z.

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