It’s hard to escape the comparisons to August Wilson in Dominique Morisseau’s jazz-inflected period drama “Paradise Blue,” part of a trilogy of plays set in different time periods in Morisseau’s native Detroit.
And like Wilson with his award-winning 10-part saga of 20th-century Pittsburgh, Morisseau is drawn both to a piercingly lyrical writing style as well as an acute examination of the plight of her African American characters.
“Paradise Blue,” which opened Monday in a soulful production at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre, is set in 1949 at a jazz club/boarding house in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood that Blue (J. Alphonse Nicholson) inherited from his late father and has very nearly run into the ground. (The neighborhood lent its name to a dance that featured in Wilson’s ’20s-set play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”)
If the characters and set-up sound a little stock, Morisseau manages to elevate them with some pointed commentary and poetic turns of phrase. Her writing consistently elevates material that might otherwise seem pat — though Blue himself remains mostly a cipher, the suggestions of mental illness never quite coalescing into a character who holds our interest, let alone our sympathy.
Read the rest of my review at TheWrap.