Review: Lackawanna Blues Takes A Lively, Musical Stroll Down Memory Lane

The Mark Taper Forum
By Emerson L.
April 23, 2019

Lackawanna Blues is a semi-autobiographical one-man show starring Ruben Santiago-Hudson as, well, everyone. A dizzying tapestry of anecdotes, Lackawanna Blues depicts the life and times of those surrounding a boarding house presided over by Rachel “Nanny” Crosby, a stern but loving woman who raised Santiago-Hudson, also the playwright and director.

The rapid-fire nature of the story and the show’s intense focus on one narration demanded a spare set, delivered in minimal but effective touches like a brick wall, a lazy ceiling fan, and weathered wood furniture designed by Michael Carnahan. So unobtrusive were these quiet assertions of scene that one of my neighbors, Summar B., ’21, took a few minutes to notice the ceiling fan was a set piece instead of just one of the theatre’s utilities. Though the set dressing and costumes (by Karen Perry) may have been realistic, subtle, and neutral in color, Santiago-Hudson’s vibrant performance infused the characters with intense vitality; at one point, the actor fistfought himself in a whirling dervish of limbs and shouts that thrilled and surprised. The show drew laughter, gasps, and tense silence from the audience with its earthy sense of humor and dramatic confrontations.

The entire performance was also soundtracked by Chris Thomas King on the acoustic guitar, lending a welcome rhythm and urgency to long monologues and climactic moments. At times the rapid character shifts made the story hard to follow; several characters had strong accents or were hard to distinguish during quick exchanges. Some characters felt like superficial masks of one voice and one posture each, but for the most part, the transformations were complete, absorbing, and impressive despite their speed and variety.

 

Lackawanna Blues ran at the Mark Taper Forum from March 5 to April 21, 2019.