Seasoned actor Aubrey Pooe takes the lead as Blue in a compelling new theatre production "Paradise Blue".
"Paradise Blue" is making its debut at the Market Theatre on Thursday as a part of the Black History Month commemoration, an annual observation of black history-makers who have helped shape and influence the American culture.
The US Mission has partnered with the Market Theatre to deliver this riveting theatre piece to the South African audience.
The production, which is directed by theatre genius James Ngcobo, is written by award-winning African American playwright Dominique Morisseau.
It features a stellar cast of Mzansi heavyweights Pooe supported by a strong cast of Pakamisa Zwedala and Seneliso Dladla as his fellow band members P-Sam and Corn. Busisiwe Lurayi will play the naïve Pumpkin and Lesedi Job the threatening Silver.
It’s 1949 and we meet a jazz muso and businessman who is faced with a difficult decision of selling his club, Paradise Club in Black Bottom in Detroit.
Blue is also a troubled man with demons from the past that haunt him. He witnessed the tragic death of his mother at the hands of his psychotic father.
We caught up with seasoned actor Pooe to chat about his role in this enthralling play.
Elaborating on his role he explained: “I play a very complex and very tormented character… the great jazz musician that Blue is, he is trying hard to hide his frustrations. The new major has come in and as part of his campaign trail, he spoke about gentrification and taking the "blight" out of the city.
“The city was mainly buying pieces of land owned by black people, and Blue finds himself in secret talks with the city, because he’s a troubled man and that space (where his jazz club is based) haunts him. He inherited the space in which he witnessed his father killing his mother in a hallucination feat. He literally strangled her.”
Quizzed about some of the themes that have stood out for him during his preparation for the role, Pooe shared: “It’s a play about African American lived experiences and there’s a parallel narrative between African Americans and black people in this country.
“You can’t distance yourself too much. You know, when they talk Jim Crow we talk about apartheid. It’s all about dispossession. We had forced removals here in South Africa, in America, they had gentrification, so black people were bought out of the city, the residents of Black Bottom were bought out of Detroit.”
On how Black History Month resonates with the South African audience, Pooe said: “We don’t have Black History Month in South Africa because black people are a majority, so every day is a black history day – whereas, in America, black people are a minority so they have to observe the relevance on their history, informing of the legacy of the country.
He added: “However, the commonalities are similar where black people were disempowered. The plight of black people is similar all over the world, it may vary here and there given the history of the country.
“Our parents were robbed of good quality education and as a result, the kind of lives that a lot of parents were able to afford their children is based on how much they were able to make, given the level of education they have. And that keeps you in a poverty cycle, similar to America, kids from poor neighbourhoods will go to the poor schools.
“It’s one out of 100 that you could possibly find a very good school in a poor neighbourhood. And the likelihood is that if the education is bad, one will get a job that will limit them to get out of that environment.
“That happens in America, in India, and everywhere else in the world. I don’t think it’s a colour thing. Dispossessed people anywhere in the world will continue to suffer the same fate,” he said.
Shedding light on the challenges and the highlights as he prepared for the show, Pooe quipped: “The text in itself is enjoyable but then it’s equally challenging because you’re dealing with accents and dialects.
“There’s a way in which, black people in 1949 in Chicago spoke, possibly their parents were born to slaves. So it makes it a very challenging process, but we are beginning to break its back.”
The subject matter is a bit heavy and the production explores powerful ideas that will stir necessary conversation among South Africans.
Pooe said he was thrilled and could wait to hit the stage for the one-month long thought-provoking production. And he said he hoped the audience would walk away with the intended message.
"Paradise Blue" will be showing at the Market Theatre from January 31 to March 1. Tickets are available at Webtickets from R90 to R150.