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DOMINIQUE MORISSEAU — PARADISE BLUE – Paris-LA
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DOMINIQUE MORISSEAU — PARADISE BLUE

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NOTE: On Wednesday, November 24—less than a week after opening night—Dominique Morisseau pulled her play PARADISE BLUE from the Geffen Playhouse and the production closed.

In her statement,* the playwright cites verbal abuse directed at one or more women on the creative team: “Harm began from within. Harm happened internally within the creative team, when fellow artists were allowed to behave disrespectfully.” According to Morisseau, the issues were not addressed by the theater in a timely or appropriate manner. The Geffen Playhouse has issued a statement of its own.

 

In our season of anticipation and joy at the return of live theater, Dominique Morisseau’s PARADISE BLUE—now at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood—meets and exceeds audience expectations. Set at the end of the 1940s at the Paradise—a Detroit nightclub run by the temperamental trumpet player and bandleader Blue (Wendell B. Franklin)—this backstage narrative is draped in noir codes and customs, a template the playwright uses to state her case with a combination of straight talk and humor. Morisseau’s frank embrace of period melodrama warrants a shift in focus for the audience. Our familiarity with the tropes allows us to fully concentrate on the execution by a brilliant ensemble of actors bringing indelible characters to life.

The ground is shifting under the men and women of Paradise. The new mayor plans to bulldoze the club’s Black Bottom neighborhood, a center of Black entertainment and economic independence but, according to city hall, a stretch of vice and blight standing in the way of “redevelopment.” Blue may own the club—and unilaterally considers accepting the city’s offer to buy the land—but according to drummer P-Sam (Alani iLongwe), “You ain’t the one to make it. We all make this Paradise.” Cooking and cleaning and generally managing things for the boarding house tenants above the club, Pumpkin (Shayna Small) is Blue’s girlfriend, a self-described “go-along gal,” and a devotee of Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. Corn (John Earl Jelks), the level-headed pianist, attempts to keep the peace between the parties and the rehearsals on time.

Into this lost world walks Silver (Tyla Abercrumbie), femme fatale nonpareil. An expert at handling any man, any gun, any situation, she blows through the joint effecting change and disruption all around her. An independent woman enduring her share of gossip and sexism, she carries a large bankroll and a small suitcase of necessities—lingerie and jazz records by Dizzy, Bird, and Lester Young. Fundamentally manipulative, Silver’s influence on her immediate circle is profound and, in the end, irrevocable. During an extraordinary, eleventh-hour transfer of agency and power, at least one of the ghosts of Paradise takes flight.

The Geffen Playhouse production of PARADISE BLUE is directed by Stori Ayers. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday evenings and weekend matinees. See link below for details (and Morisseau’s closing statement).

 

 

PARADISE BLUE

Written by Dominique Morisseau

Directed by Stori Ayers

Through December 12

Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles

 

*Dominique Morisseau, November 24, 2021, statement:

Dear Theatre Village,
My play Paradise Blue will no longer continue its run at the Geffen Theatre.
There will be a lot of sweeping under the rug of why.
There will be a lot of institutional language. A lot of “unforeseen circumstance” type of language. A lot of “we regret to inform you.”
But the sweeping under the rug is a part of the harm. I sweep the whole damn floor. Nothing hidden under the rug. That ain’t cleaning. That’s presenting an image of clean. And that’s not what I do.
Geffen Theatre might tell you that they have work to do. Perhaps they programmed the wrong play (meaning mine) in the wrong time (meaning after a year of trauma).
That would unconsciously or consciously blame my work for the reason why institutional failure has happened. That Paradise Blue, will like so many Black plays of depth, beauty and pain, be labeled as “Black trauma.”
That will be a scapegoat.
I don’t do scapegoats.
That is not the truth.
I only do the truth.
And the truth is this. I gave the theatre an ultimatum. Respect the Black womxn artists working on my show, or I will pull my play.
Harm has happened. And harm always happens, as we know.
But some theatres—many that I support—are consciously working on addressing that harm. They have pulled experts and training in place. They have combed through demands and calls of action from BIPOC artists and are finding their way into a new day. Some too slowly for our taste. Others at respectable speeds. But there are many who are at least beginning to look within and face hard questions about themselves.
But here. In the experience of my play Paradise Blue, harm was allowed to fester. Grow. And go un-checked. I caught wind of it, as I was not involved in the process. I then investigated it personally. And ultimately, refused to stand for it. I wrote email after email. Drew lines in the sand. And even gave grace and mercy that was not necessarily warranted.
I was met with boldface dishonesty. Commitments to do a thing and then doing the exact opposite of that commitment. And in the process, I watched more and more of my creative team continue to be harmed.
It is layered. Harm began from within. Harm happened internally within the creative team, when fellow artists were allowed to behave disrespectfully. To not acknowledge their impact on one another. To center themselves and their personal struggles over everyone else’s. There are many individuals who carry their own weight in the destruction of a creative project. I do not negate this. I do not exempt grown people from personal responsibility and self respect and dignity for the work that they are hired to do.
However, when harm has been reported to a theatre. When an institution has the final say on how harm will be addressed. On whose harm matters and whose doesn’t. When Black womxn are verbally abused and diminished, and this is brought to the attention of the theatre by myself and other creatives, and the theatre applauds the Black womxn for how they “take” the abuse…..
I say “no more.”
We are not to be applauded for suffering.
We are not to be expected to be stronger than everyone else.
We are not to be treated so insignificantly that when we are harmed, we are ignored. Asked to tough it out. Or worse, pretend to be listened to when in fact, we are being handled. Tolerated. And not respected. Nor Heard. Protected. Valued.
Then it is time to pull the plug.
I am sharing this publicly not to shame the Geffen. They have produced my work in the past. I thought of this place as one of my first west coast homes for theatre. I don’t have many.
This has gutted me.
To think of myself as a playwright who is only trying to contribute humanity and heart to the world, and to have my own humanity and heart crushed and discarded…
This has made me feel insignificant. Foolish. And hugely disrespected.
I demanded that an apology happen from a creative team member for their abuses against other members of the creative team or they do not continue to work on my play.
And instead of staunchly backing this, the Geffen continued to enable more abuse.
That is when I say “no more.”
I am writing this note in solidarity with the Black womxn of my show. Not all of them. We are not a monolith. I do not speak for the Black womxn who may feel harm was just a normal part of the theatre process.
I speak for the Black womxn of my show who, in some fashion or another, stood up to the theatre and said no more. They walked. They demanded respect and an apology. And I stood up with them. Promised them I will have their backs. That they will not be fearful or un-courageous and feel obliged to suffer more abuse.
I gave the theatre the ultimatum because I am not passive. This play is not getting pulled for “unforeseen circumstances.” It is getting pulled because I said NO MORE.
And any theatre that has ever worked with me directly knows that I am generous. Beyond generous. I help with their programming. I go above and beyond. I make myself in service of the work, and in service of theatre at large, because I believe in it as the pathway to illuminate a new future.
But I am not taking business-as-usual into that future. I am not taking the normalization of abuse against ANYONE into the future of this field.
The Geffen Theatre is a necessary institution in our field. It needs support to continue to make space for LA Theatre artists, playwrights, storytellers and change makers. Even if I am no longer in that number.
But it will not be in service to our field until it recognizes the root of what went wrong here. To blame anything but the culture of misogyny and abuse that has been allowed to run rampant in our field for generations, is to lie to themselves and the rest of us.
To blame the subject of a play, that was built in the tradition of Black liberation storytelling, and is a story about Black womxn empowerment against abuse…. is to lie about my play and its impact.
To blame the individual artists who felt powerless, lied-to, and frustrated… is to lie about the responsibility of institutions built on patriarchy.
To look inward and acknowledge a pervasive culture of anti-blackness, anti-womxness, and anti-black-womxnness…
Is to finally be pointed toward the truth.

 

 

Dominique Morisseau, Paradise Blue, Geffen Playhouse, November 9, 2021–December 12, 2021, opening night November 18, 2021, directed by Stori Ayers, from top: Wendell B. Franklin; Franklin and Shayna Small; John Earl Jelks; Small and Tyla Abercrumbie; Alani iLongwe; Abercrumbie and Jelks; Jelks (left), iLongwe, Abercrumbie, and Franklin; iLongwe and Jelks; Abercrumbie and Franklin; Franklin. Photographs by Jeff Lorch, courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

 

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