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Birdie Blue

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Presented by and at Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St., NYC. Opened June 23 for open run. Casting by Tara Rubin Casting.

"Birdie Blue" wonderfully conveys the believable, grounded, day-to-day reality of the household of the title character (S. Epatha Merkerson) while also leading us through a collage of her memories of the key characters and moments in her life. Birdie, a bright, down-to-earth black woman, has dealt with life's many travails in as straightforward a fashion as she could. The most everyday chores bring forth a roller coaster of emotions.

Birdie has a loving marriage to Jackson (Charles Weldon), who is now suffering from Alzheimer's. Caring for him is heartbreaking and frustrating, but Birdie does it. Flashbacks show us Jackson in his heyday. The ups and downs of this relationship are deeply moving. As blessed as Birdie has been in this marriage, she suffers relentless pain from trying to deal with the angry estrangement of her son, Bam. The product of a painful former marriage, Bam (Billy Porter) becomes a gang member, a political activist, and an inmate. He finally leaves for good.

Porter is extraordinary playing Bam as a little boy, an adolescent, and an angry militant. He is also remarkable in switching believably and with amazing speed into several other roles. He is a young drag queen, Little Pimp, a neighbor who visits Birdie to escape from his abusive parents. Little Pimp lightens up Birdie's days, becoming her surrogate son. Porter also portrays Birdie's sister, Minerva, and Sook, the local funeral director, a surreal character who appears as a symbolic representation of death.

Birdie is a realist, but she understands the importance of holding fast to dreams. Anniversaries—the date of her hero, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, her long-gone son's birthday—have deep meaning for her. The world created by playwright Cheryl L. West, director Seret Scott, and the cast is alive, earthy, and poignant throughout.

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