Blues for an Alabama Sky

Playwright Pearl Cleage's old-fashioned potboiler about the demimonde of 1930s Harlem gets a sturdy outing under the direction of Sheldon Epps. Although hardly an adventurous piece, the play is an entertaining and engaging melodrama, with solid performances in a cast headed by Robin Givens. Angel Allen (Givens) is a nightclub singer down on her luck, having just been dumped by her gangster boyfriend. She moves in with her gay best friend Guy (Kevin T. Carroll), a costume designer with dreams of moving to Paris to design for Josephine Baker.

Angel and Guy have a symbiotic relationship, living off each other's impossible hopes. Their next-door neighbor, Delia (Tessa Thompson), is a churchgoing crusader for family planning and suggests a secretarial career for Angel, which hardly endears her to the singer. The local fun-loving doctor (Kadeem Hardison), who has developed a romantic attachment to Delia, rounds out the collection of neighborhood characters.

Into this insular world strides Leland Cunningham (Robert Ray Manning Jr.), a country bumpkin from Alabama who falls instantly in love with Angel and offers to free her from the bondage of nightclubs and gangsters. But the story becomes tragic as dreams are turned to dust and moral consequences rain down on them. The playwright is clearly striving for verisimilitude, but in her predictable plot and familiar characters, she leans heavily toward melodrama and thus loses much of the potential theatrical power of the material. We learn little about the characters beyond their situations in life, and their inner lives are largely passed over.

The performances are good, although the melodramatic tone of the piece often strains the authenticity of the acting. Givens is solid as Angel, and Carroll is lively and entertaining as her pal. Thompson shines as the plain-Jane neighbor, and Manning is excellent as the Alabama interloper. Hardison as the local doctor is energetic and engaging. Sets by John Iacovelli are serviceable, except for the creaky and annoying turntable that often distracts from the play as it rumbles repeatedly from scene to scene.

Presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Nov. 6-27. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (626) 356-7529.