“Joe Louis Blues” Oliver Mayer’s tantalizingly complex drama, directed by John Johnson, opened last month to critical acclaim at Green Description’s handsome new digs at the city. But it is fast approaching the end of its announced run — Dec. 26.
The play’s setting is a Harlem night-club in 1942, where we come to know the intimate dreams (not always selfless) and aspirations (not always realistic) of an absorbing array of characters.
The club owner (Mike Blake) seeks to strike it rich playing the numbers. Leila, the beautiful singer who refuses to sing the blues — she has her reasons — (Sharyl Farmer) yearns only to make it in the smart downtown Manhattan clubs, while the cornetist (Conrad Ferguson) yearns only for Leila. Only the Dana Owens character (Rhonnie Washington) seems content just to lose himself in the magnificent playing of his beloved saxophone.
And of course, there is the “Brown Bomber” himself, Joe Louis (Derek Stone), whose dreams and aspirations are less easily accessible. They must certainly include winning, as we can plainly see — and hear — watching the champ deliver a knockout punch behind a scrim to an unseen opponent. The action is made abundantly clear by the (white) announcer (Louis Parnell), who repeatedly mentions that Louis is “a credit to his race.” referring to the fighter’s well known generous financial contributions to the war effort, crowned, at the height of his career, by his enlistment into the army as a private, a move that probably cost him millions in lost income.