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This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage.
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” is a play by African-American author Pearl Cleage. Published by the Dramatist’s Play Service in 1999, “Blues for an Alabama Sky” tells the story of Angel, a struggling blues singer in 1930s Harlem, New York during the Great Depression. Cleage is praised for bringing to life the cultural renaissance which took place in Harlem during a period of economic uncertainty. She is also known for her staunchly feminist views, and her numerous plays and novels draw heavily from her own life experiences. “Blues for an Alabama Sky” looks at the lives of five characters who cross paths in a Harlem apartment building during the summer of 1930. Each character fights racism, sexism and prejudice daily.
The main character is Angel Allan, a black woman in her mid-30s who used to be a singer at the Cotton Club until she lost her job. Other key characters are Guy Jacobs, the Cotton Club costume designer, Delia Patterson, a social worker at the Margaret Sanger family planning clinic, Sam Thomas, a doctor at Harlem Hospital, and Leland Cunningham, a new resident in Harlem who recently lost his wife. Guy and Angel share an apartment, and Delia lives alone in the same building. She is very close to Sam.
The characters are frequently found drinking alcohol, regardless of Prohibition, and this is what causes Angel’s initial problem. When we meet Angel at the opening of Act I, she is drunk and needs help getting home. She has just been fired after throwing things at her ex-boyfriend, Nick, from the stage during her performance. She’s also losing her apartment because she stayed there with Nick, so she moves in with Guy. Guy doesn’t want to tell her that he’s also been fired because he doesn’t want to worry her.
The raucous they make coming home this night wakes up Delia and she comes to see what’s happened. Angel is too drunk to talk to, so Delia gives up and goes home. The next day, Delia tries to convince Angel to take a typing class or something similar, so she can find steady, regular work. Angel is too hungover to think about the future until Sam arrives with a hangover cure. While she knows Delia is probably right, she wants a singing job again.
As the days pass, however, Angel is no closer to finding a singing job, until Nick suggests she audition for his club-owner friend, Tony. Angel’s surprised by this, but she doesn’t question it and counts it as good fortune. Angel and Guy dress up and celebrate. At the same time, Angel meets Leland and they arrange a date. Leland admits he’s interested in a relationship with her, because she’s like his ex-wife. They sleep together.
However, Angel goes to her audition and discovers it was nothing more than Tony making an indecent proposal. She begrudgingly agrees to become his mistress in exchange for financial support, but she doesn’t know how to break this to Leland—who is outraged when he finds out. Leland is further aggrieved when he learns of Guy’s homosexuality. Leland has a strict upbringing and finds homosexuality difficult to accept, even though he likes Guy.
At the beginning of Act II, Angel discovers she’s pregnant with Leland’s child, and that Guy is being evicted for not paying rent. Delia’s hopes of opening a better clinic are shattered when the building she chooses is bombed, but Sam offers her the let of a building he once used. Guy gets good news when a client asks him to visit Paris to design costumes. Angel plans on going with him, but first decides on an abortion. Sam is to perform this.
Leland, oblivious to any of this, prepares for the baby, but sees Angel isn’t acting her normal self. He interrogates her and questions her if she wants the baby or not. She tries to tell him that she had a miscarriage, but he doesn’t believe her. Angel finally admits that she didn’t want the baby and got an abortion. Leland, in his rage, goes looking for Sam and kills him. Angel goes missing.
Two weeks later, Guy is getting ready to leave for Paris, and everyone is still devastated by Sam’s death—particularly Delia. No one knows where Angel is, and Guy is getting worried. He does, however, prepay the rent on the apartment in case she returns while he’s gone. He offers Delia the chance to go with him and get a break from thinking about Sam. Delia knows this is a good idea and accepts his offer. While she goes to her own apartment to pack, Angel tries to slip back into Guy’s place, unseen. Delia, however, spots her and stares at her through the open door. They exchange their goodbyes, and Angel gives Delia a picture of Sam to remember him by.
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