20’s America, the Great Depression, prohibition and Deep South lynchings, a tough time to live in the ‘land of the free’ but amidst all this grime and darkness shone the beacon of life and energy that was Broadway and more importantly Vaudevill, where anyone could be anything. But what about the people behind the masks? Behind the songs and dances? Richard Canal’s ‘Cry Blueberry’ attempts to show just that.
The play starts with Blueberry, a vaudeville clown mid Act before retiring to his dressing room where we find in the space of one night he has both lost his job and his wife and thus ensues the poor clowns preceding breakdown using the audience of ‘ghosts’ as his therapist. In the spirit of not giving to much away I won’t say a lot, but what I can say is that the play is a twisting and turning story of the mans life, cutting from his career as a clown whilst always harking back to the life he led before leaving home on the Mississippi River, his trials, tribulations and later we find his grave errors.
Cry Blueberry is an interesting piece of theatre, to say you enjoy it is difficult as its not one to enjoy, to revere and respect yes, but the piece is a mans slow decent into a drunken realisation of his own mental health, and so one that is difficult to watch, yet you can’t not. The play examines the concepts of how we as humans detach ourselves from the issues in our lives and disconnect from pain, thus effecting our remaining life without realising. Canal cleverly intertwined his seemingly unrelated infidelity and inability to connect with his past so that we could only connect the dots at the end, signs of a good playwright. The play itself was well crafted, all of the stories, especially of the tree were clever and well though out, however I would say that the piece could do with signposting the points in time a little more as a few times I was lost as to what point in time we were in.
Canal, who also played the title role, did so with incredulous conviction, he fully embodied the stylised nature of the vaudevillian clown and used this to show us the pain and suffering of the ‘roaring’ twenties. I enjoy how he used the idea of ‘clowning’, saying that Blueberry is very good at telling the truth but Isaac isn’t, but didn’t do a full play of comede del Arte which would have completely lost the story and pain of the character. Canal’s voice though was the real star, his husky, deep American tones where enough to hypnotise anyone and belong on the RSC stage. I feel he could have made more effort, however, to isolate the characters in his stories, a few changes of voice and characterisation could have helped to separate them but would have also been a nice opportunity to bring in more of the character’s clowning career.
The direction was good, and the stage was used well. George Goodell did a great job of pulling every emotion out of Canal and structured an appealing through line to the piece, however I do think he could have done more to help Canal control his emotions in the final section of the piece. Although powerful, we wanted to hear the story more which was sometimes lost in his breakdown. My only real dislike of the piece was the sound, it was very abrasive and not complementary to the piece, more work could be done to combine the two to make them one.
Overall, Cry Blueberry is a strong and bold piece of theatre that tackles some interesting issues, I think it could do with picking one main topic and isolating it more as well as some time-line defining but other than that it has the making for a very strong play and a modern day ‘Scaramouch Jones’. I look forward to seeing more of Canal’s work in future.