Written, performed and directed by Tony Award-Winning actor, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, this soulful and funny production of Lackawanna Blues at the Mark Taper Forum is dedicated to the memory of Blues musician and composer, Bill Sims Jr. who wrote the beautiful, haunting score.
Santiago-Hudson’s recounting of his upbringing as the child of a struggling single mother living at a boarding house in Lackawanna, NY, is really a tribute to the house’s owner, Miss Rachel “Nanny” Crosby. A former housemaid in the 1950’s, she was able to save enough money and open a couple of boarding houses where she instantly established herself as a surrogate mother to everyone under her roof. Ex-cons, former hookers, mental patients, drifters, drinkers, musicians, needy strays — no one was turned away. Yet Nanny could also be tough when required and was quick to face down bullies and wife beaters, all with heart and understanding.
During the 90-minute performance we are introduced to this variety of characters at Miss Nanny’s house through our host, Santiago-Hudson. An astonishing chameleon, he inhabits them all, switching effortlessly from one to another, and without the use of any props or scenery. A scene in which Hudson portrays both Nanny, standing up to a wife beater, and the heated wife beater, is a testament to his acting chops. Although technically categorized as a one-man show, guitarist, Chris Thomas King, sitting on a chair under an obscuring fedora, must be given kudos for supplying a score that’s both playful and melancholy, and which forms the heartbeat of the show.
In the last heartbreaking scene, Santiago-Hudson eulogizes Nanny by saying that “she always gave us hope and a hot meal.” Being a part of this heartwarming show made us feel just as nourished.
— Victor Riobo
Lackawanna Blues runs through April 21, 2019 at CTGLA Mark Taper Forum. Get tickets HERE.