Review of Blue A generational rift leads to father & son at odds with the fate of the family at Risk
Updated: Jul 13
"Asking ever-relevant questions of race, duty and the extent to which loyalty can hold before breaking, Blue follows an African American family as the patriarch’s job as a policeman clashes with his activist son’s notions of equality and justice.
Acclaimed Tony Award-winning composer, Jeanine Tesori’s score contains influences from jazz, gospel, hymns and musical theatre – perfect for those new to opera, as well as opera enthusiasts." Source https://www.eno.org/whats-on/blue/
I didn't know what to expect. I had no expectations. I went along with TurningPoint: Your Lifestyle, Your Magazine's Resident Writers, Katie Rose to see Blue, as she had requested it would be good to go see this black opera, and together our shared experiences of Blue will be told. Katie's review can be found at link at the bottom of the page. As mentioned I had no expectations. However, I walked away deep in thought, with more clarity around some of the issues depicted in this drama, inspired and intrigued. Intrigued because this was an Opera, an all black cast and a subject such as this was being performed at the ENO, traditionally an all white British establishment, shows how far the UK have evolved, even though there is still so much further to go, and hoping this was not just a tick box exercise for diversity.
This powerful drama story was more than about race, as it cascaded into the impact of the past on a family and their place in a world that has always seen and portrayed blacks as second class citizens. A society that depicted blacks as negative, dangerous, characterised as the epitome of degradation and a Bastardisation of everything that symbolised and represented being black. Once a slave always a slave, the underlying message was the same, the wrapping had just changed.
Add to this the mindset developed by two generations of men, based on their experiences, in a family who are trying to exist in such a world, with all these negative messages and perceptions of what it is to be black and a black man. The father Kenneth Kellogg, has now succumbed to the hypocrisy of the American Dream. Of what the American flag meant, 'a symbol of freedom and liberty' to which Americans recited the pledge of allegiance. He was a Police Officer, forced by the system to 'unsee' what was really happening in his world. A man who was tired and brainwashed by years of existing and trying to survive. As a grown man he had to hide who he was, becoming submissive to a society that debases him, as a human being, and as a man simply because of the colour of his skin. His soul wearily wanting to say 'I Am a Man' but he had been indoctrinated, worn down and beaten by how society perceived him and his wounded pride, deterred him from fighting back. Maybe it was easier to plod on and 'exist,' than to fight for freedom and truth and either 'live' as a man and human being or 'die' for what he believed.
Whereas with Zwakele Tshabalala who plays the Son, he was an activist, the younger who refused to be down trodden, who refused to remain hidden, who demanded his freedom, his vocal expression and his expression as a young black boy. When his mother, played by Nadine Benjamin, found out she was pregnant, her 3 girl friends played by, Chanae Curtis, (The Nurse), Sarah-Jane Lewis and Idunuu Munch were unable to join in the celebration of a new life entering into this world. They mourned for him and mourned him because the reality that this boy, this black boy, just being a black boy in America, was a curse and a judgement even before the jury were out. The chances of him dying young, being incarcerated, living in fear for his life every day, of being shot, experiencing lack of work opportunities, lack of equality and respect were already stacked against him. Yet, his mother's love for her unborn child, the happiness at him being her first child, far out weighed the possibilities of what could happen to him, because a mother's love would always protect her child, would it not?
The drama also took us through the lives of the family's friends, and the impact it had on them all. From the jubilation of finding out about the pregnancy, to being a father, to the reality of what they were up against, to the shooting of a young black man and the realisation of the same world they lived in but different worlds at the same time, created a bond and unity that went beyond the call of duty. The series of situations bought them closer together, mainly through grief. The shooting of the son, raised questions, raised answers, raised anger, pain, hurt. In solitude each one, wept tears not only for the loss of yet another 'black boy', but another black son, who was not only someone's son, but everyone's son. The death of the son, was the death of the sons of all their ancestors. They also wept for the path that seemed to have been laid out for them as a race, without any recourse, without redemption. Their faith and that unified grief bought them together, in the knowledge that once again, after 400 years, nothing much had changed. Their faith was question and put in the spot light. The father's faith pushed to the limit, until the pain at loosing his son tore at the very fabric of his own humanity for others, and revenge became the blanket of comfort. However, the reverend played by Ronald Samm had to speak into that pain, as he had probably done so many a time. He had to plead with the father that forgiveness was the only saving grace and weapon that could not destroy him.
The father, The man in Blue, who wore his uniform with disillusioned pride, for the man in Blue who worked in the same institution that bred racist ideologies, and which insidiously cast their ideals out like a poisoned net into communities, who killed black men and black boys as if they were shooting at a firing range for fun, the man in Blue who religiously clocked in and out of the same institution day in day out, with the same people who eventually killed his son, and who had killed the sons of all the ancestors - meant that forgiveness was the only saving grace and weapon that would not destroy him.
The play is thought provoking, with many levels of unpeeling. Yet in some way too it is a healing insight into the reality of an experience that is all too common black communities globally not just in the USA. Yet, for those who were blinded or not aware of the depth of this human tragedy, it offers hope for awareness and awareness for hope and both towards change. Healing in that, the story is being told, in front of audiences from all backgrounds and cultures. Told in front of people who might not want to hear a truth. It is healing that the voices of young black men, of black communities are being told, and seen and therefore an outlet of an expression stifled for over 400 years. For others, it is a painful and harsh new reality and awareness. For others still, maybe we walked away looking further and deeper into our beliefs and how we operate and perceive others.
For the most part, maybe we can all come together to continue the fight against racism and its insidious tentacles, as we unravel ourselves in the process too.
"The Civil Rights leader, Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. He marched with them and made speeches. During the marches, many workers wore signs that read “I Am A Man.” This showed that they were fighting for equality, dignity, and respect." By Esther Austin
REVIEW B Y KATIE ROSE, SINGER, COMPOSER, SONGWRITER, CONDUCTOR
Katie Rose writes her Review of this incredibly powerful, disturbing, mind opening opera at https://therosewindow.org/blogs/katie-rose-s-blog/posts/7200893/blue-eno-review