Theatre Review: ‘Blackberry Daze’ at Horizon


Horizon Theatre is presenting a snazzy, jazzy entertainment with music called “Blackberry Daze,” based on Ruth P. Watson’s book “Blackberry Days of Summer”; she co-wrote the libretto with Thomas W. Jones II, who directs. The music is by William Knowles, and the show will run through Aug. 27.

You may notice that’s a longer run than usual for this theatre, but Horizon knows a hit when it sees one; “Blackberry Days” is selling out because it’s a slick, tight, superbly produced and performed show that’s ready for New York right now. It premiered last year at MetroStage in the Washington DC area.

The setting is various locations in rural Virginia and in the “Black Broadway” area of Washington, just after World War I; we’re in a small town full of secrets and seductions, the latter courtesy of one Herman Camm (TC Carson). To say that Herman is a lady killer is a large understatement. As Aunt Ginny (Cristy Clark) says, he’s the type of man who is “cockle-doodle-doodling in a whole lot of hen houses.”

He’s after Mae Lou (Naomi Lavette) even as her late husband is being lowered into his grave. Then he has eyes for her teenage daughter Carrie (Ayana Reed), who already has a beau named Simon (Christian Magby), a budding baseball player. And he’s already involved with local juke joint singer Pearl (Brittany Inge), who has a husband named Willie (also played by Mr. Magby), who’s just home from the War.

Hence, it’s not surprising or revealing anything too soon to report that Herman is shot at the beginning of the show (at the end of a musical number!). The question is not who had a motive, but who didn’t? Yes, Herman is one bad dude, way too charming to be legal; and when he drinks, which is often, he’s lethal. By the way, there’s talk of a film adaptation of the show for next year.

“Blackberry Daze” is presented in what is called a presentational style, which means the actors at times acknowledge the audience; this can be great fun, but it’s also tricky, because there is some serious heartache here (and a rape, not shown). You may find yourself feeling a bit guilty for enjoying yourself so much. This is the style Bertolt Brecht espoused, especially in his legendary “Threepenny Opera.” So in a sense, “Daze” is a sort of conundrum; the audience is kept from feeling too much about the characters.

What rescues the day is the joy and power of the music, performed to perfection by a great cast; not to mention the effortless choreography, also staged by director/writer Jones, a truly talented theatre artist. And what singing! Every single person in the six-member cast is an accomplished vocalist, and when they sing together, they rock the house. I was particularly moved by a plaintive song by Carrie (Ms. Reed), in which she easily runs the emotional and vocal gamut in a devastating way.

Sincere kudos to music director S. Renee Clark, who also plays the piano. Horizon Theatre has assembled a cast and production team rich in experience and talent. There’s the devilish Mr. Carson, who’s done the hit TV sitcom “Living Single” and tons of stage, recording, film and TV work. This is a team of professionals.

There isn’t enough space to say good things about each actor, musician, and tech member. The Curley-Clays are here. Suffice it to say that “Blackberry Daze” is a simple falling into place that will take your breath away. It swings, it rocks, it dances, and you had best get tickets now.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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