What exactly does Ruben Santiago-Hudson no longer function in the principle Broadway revival of his 2001 play “Lackawanna Blues,” which opened Thursday at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre? He has written, directed and stars, giving himself no longer decrease than two dozen characters to play on this one-particular person prove about rising up Sad in the steel town of Lackawanna, Original York, in the 1950s and past. He sings the blues, accompanied by guitarist Junior Mack, and he performs a median harmonica, as smartly as a broad quantity of characters — including an beautiful pet raccoon that’s let out into the wild, grand to the frustration of Junior.
Junior is Santiago-Hudson as a younger boy raised in a boarding dwelling owned and operated by an wonderful entrepreneur nicknamed Nanny, aka Ms. Rachel Crosby. Nanny really adopts Junior when she discovers that his working single mom leaves him alone all day in the tiny dispute the mom and child name home.
We’ll get to some of the different 22 characters later. The miracle of this “Lackawanna Blues” is completely the shortcoming of effort Santiago-Hudson shows in switching from an adult girl to quite boy. The feat brought motivate memories of seeing “The Lehman Trilogy” on the Armory in 2019 and having to balk every time the three gifted actors were called upon to play a baby or female personality. They were huge essaying the an infinite quantity of adult male characters. Nevertheless the females and children?! (Two of these three actors inaugurate on Broadway in “The Lehman Trilogy” later this month.)
Santiago-Hudson fully embodies Nanny and Junior with bare adjustments in his vocal vary and body language. The tour-de-power in minimalism, nonetheless, comes later in the play when the actor stands in attach of abode to segue between a supremely protective Nanny and a particular individual that has come to retrieve his girlfriend after practically beating her to loss of life. There’s a long moment on this nail-biting bump into by means of which Santiago-Hudson communicates this traumatic stand-off by standing calm and no longer pronouncing a observe. His body says it all — for no longer one but each characters.
Santiago-Hudson won a Tony Award as featured actor for his performance in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” but he is more healthy known on Broadway for his direction of performs by Wilson and others. It would possibly perchance possibly presumably well also be charming to search him narrate actors. Originate any of them ever give a greater performance of his or her respective personality than Santiago-Hudson?
He wrote “Lackawanna Blues” more than a decade before Charles Blow printed his 2014 memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” now an opera performing on the Metropolitan Opera. “Fire” owes quite a bit to “Blues.” There’s the gun-toting mom decide. An absent but abusive father decide, and while Junior by no contrivance suffers the sexual abuse of the younger Charles in “Fire,” there would possibly be an incident in his childhood that’s merely about as formative and harrowing.
The characters in “Lackawanna Blues” talk quite a bit about meals, and one way or the opposite even a meal of Pepsi cola and potato chips manages to sound mouth-watering. Nonetheless it’s the outline of all people’s dresses that most impresses. It’s dazzling overall stuff – shirts, boots, dresses, the identical old – but Santiago-Hudson makes spend of their ordinariness to inform what these garments duvet. And what they don’t. Virtually each personality in “Lackawanna Blues” is missing something, whether or no longer it’s a leg, a breast, a forearm, fingers, an leer, their tips. This attention to missing body factors remembers a line in Erskine Caldwell’s “Tobacco Avenue” when a younger boy appears to be by means of a Sears Roebuck catalogue to salvage your entire perfect bodies, and realizes they resemble no one he has ever viewed in the flesh.
Caldwell used to be writing referring to the Deep South, Santiago-Hudson the city North. Nevertheless the identical violence permeates each areas, in most cases erupting in disfigurement and even loss of life.
“Lackawanna Blues” aspects most efficient two white characters, each of whom are played with out condescension. Upon visiting them, Junior and Nanny gaze that the snow inaugurate air the rich girl’s dwelling is “white.” They then return to their rooming dwelling, cessation to the billowing chimneys of the steel mill, where the snow is “orange.”
Robert Hofler, TheWrap’s lead theater critic, has labored as an editor at Existence, Us Weekly and Range. His books include “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson,” “Celebration Animals,” and “Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All of the Taboos.” His most modern e book, “Cash, Murder, and Dominick Dunne,” is now in paperback.