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Theater Review: Paradise Blue


Dominique Morisseau has attained heights most playwrights only dream of: A MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called Genius Grant), a Tony nomination for the Temptations musical Ain’t Too Proud, an Obie (Off-Broadway) Award for her now-headed-to-Broadway play Skeleton Crew and a number of prestigious others.

Three of her nine plays form a cycle, “The Detroit Projects,” going deep on the history of key changes in the city. They span the years 1949 (Paradise Blue) to 1967 (Detroit ‘67) to 2008 (Skeleton Crew). Morisseau has shown she knows how to go deep and reveal truths.


L-R: John Earl Jelks (Corn), Alani iLongwe (P-Sam), Tyla Abercrumbie (Silver), and Wendell B. Franklin (Blue) in Paradise Blue at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Stori Ayers. Photo by Jeff Lorch.


There is some beautiful writing in Paradise Blue. Although the show feels too long and has an abrupt and somewhat dissatisfying ending, its themes—gentrification and disenfranchisement, domestic abuse—are compellingly painted. The acting and direction, by Stori Ayers, are uniformly strong.

The play set in a part of town known as Paradise Valley, destined to be demolished but currently thriving as a Black community. Jazz trumpeter Blue (Wendell B. Franklin) owns the club Paradise Blue, which has its own community. P-Sam (Alani iLongwe) and Corn (John Earl Jelks) are musicians, Pumpkin (Shayna Small) is Blue’s devoted girlfriend and newcomer Silver (Tyla Abercrumbie) is a mysterious boarder.


Wendell B. Franklin as Blue in Paradise Blue. Photo by Jeff Lorch


Shayna Small (Pumpkin) comforts Wendell B. Franklin (Blue) in Paradise Blue. Photo by Jeff Lorch.


Blue is considering selling out, a move that would pull the rug out from under the other players. What does a property owner owe to those who live in or feel passion for his property? Should he feel obligated to consider the impact a sale would have on others, or simply do what he wants? In a Los Angeles where every property is a potential bonanza for developers, and low-income communities are particular targets, these questions resonate.


Paradise Blue is at the Geffen Playhouse through Dec. 12, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Tickets cost $39-129 and are available here. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. All audience members show proof of vaccination and wear masks.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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