REVIEW – Bayou Blues, CalArts Festival Theatre

*****

 

By Jen Bolsover

Bayou Blues is an odd combination of disparate elements. Individually, most of these elements work very well – but considered as a whole, the piece doesn’t quite add up.

Shaina Lynn’s writing is powerful, and she has a warm yet formidable presence on stage. At various points in the show she recounts her experience of fleeing New Orleans before Katrina hit, raps furiously about life as a black American, and speaks with heartbreaking eloquence about being considered “too black” to be attractive. It is in these moments that the show is at its strongest, when she commits fully to the material and simply tells her story.

At other points the show loses some of its momentum. Animations appear on the backcloth, and while the shifting, swirling patterns are beautifully drawn, their purpose is not always clear. There are also dance sections where the dance itself is well executed, but the sections don’t flow naturally from the text, making them feel shoehorned in.

With a bit of dramaturgy to tighten up the flow and edit out the extraneous elements, Bayou Blues could be as beautiful and hard-hitting as it clearly wants to be. Its ambition and energy are admirable, but it needs a little more focus in order to earn its ending.

Bayou Blues runs at Venue 13 until 29 August at 15:45 (running time one hour).

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