Thursday, August 09, 2018
Fringe 2018 - Review - Illinois Boy Blues - 5 stars
tweet review - #mnfringe show 27 - Illinois Boy Blues - the phrase master class is overused but actors take note, *this* is how you use the entire range of your voice to create characters, tell a story, and truly connect with your audience - wow - great solo performance - 5 stars
Khalil Muhammad, writer and performer of the solo Fringe show Illinois Boy Blues, is great in both of his roles here. The weirdest thing about my enthusiastic response to Illinois Boy Blues is that, when I think about it, there’s not really a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, but I don’t care. Under Elizabeth Flax’s direction, Muhammad has created a character (on the page and in performance), surrounded by a series of other characters, that paint a picture of another culture and another time. A culture and a time that exist in America’s history, but things that white America (and this white viewer) don’t often have access to, or perhaps choose to ignore or forget.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.”
Bluesman Romaine Ri’chard recalls his parents, his childhood abandonment and subsequent life as a foster child, and his more adult forays into sex and the music business. Muhammad creates a full picture of Romaine and all the people who pass through his life. Along the way he gives us history, song and laughs. Muhammad is that rare actor who uses the entire range of his voice (other actors should watch him in action and take note). He’s not afraid to get loud, he’s not afraid to flirt directly with the ladies in the audience, and his voice seems equally confident at the high and low end of its register. When he creates a new voice for a new character, it remains consistent, and once established, we don’t need a reintroduction when that character returns. That sounds like a basic, simple thing all actors should be able to do. Few do it this well.
“But the river kept flowing, and life kept going.”
So why, if it’s simply a character study that isn’t driving a plot toward its conclusion in the way of a lot of standard plays, do I find Illinois Boy Blues so compelling and satisfying to watch? It’s the performance, because the performance is a window into another world, and by existing in that world, Romaine and his portrayer take me there. Muhammad is a visiting actor whose work we don’t get to see every day. So you should see him while you can.
5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended
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