Cool Blues at Paul Robeson Theatre
by Anthony Chase
Following the community-based mission of its home at the African American Cultural Center, the shows at the Paul Robeson Theatre fall roughly into two categories: the artistically ambitious (impressive productions like Bluest Eye and Crumbs from the Table of Joy); and the historically educational (entertaining shows like Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting and Simply Simone). Cool Blues falls into the second category, as it tells the tale of B, a thinly veiled version of jazz musician Charlie Parker, and Xan, a baroness who can only be the Baroness Pannonica “Nica” de Koenigswarter, his patron and friend, at whose Manhattan home Parker died in 1955.
Kinzy Brown plays B. Lisa Ludwig plays Xan—her distinctive blond coiffure hidden beneath a brunette wig that duplicates Nica’s hairstyle. (A huge supporter of the arts and especially jazz, Koenigswarter would later open her home to musician Thelonius Monk for the final years of his life.)
In the play, an ailing B arrives at Xan’s posh apartment, and after an engaging conversation about music, art, and friendship, his wealthy hostess becomes alarmed at the state of his health. She summons the physician in residence (Jerrold Brown), who has clearly never attended to an African-American patient before. Shadows of B’s life haunt him: Chim, the wife who walks out on him (Kaitlynd Brzostowica); Kid Welpool who is expecting him to play a gig in Boston (Peter Johnson); and his mother, played by Betty Stone.
Directed by theater veteran Edward Smith, and designed by Harlan Penn, with lighting by Craig Freudenthal, Cool Blues demonstrates the triumph of friendship and art over racism and ignorance. Kinzy Brown and Miss Ludwig dominate the stage time and are called upon to hold the fascinating story together. After seeing this production, audiences may be intrigued to find out more about the real life personalities on which these characters are based.
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