‘Leaving the Blues’ by Jewelle Gomez makes NYC premiere

Special to lesbian.com

Featuring A New Song by World Renowned Musician Toshi Reagon

NEW YORK&151; The great American jazz singer and songwriter Alberta Hunter is the subject of “Leaving the Blues,” a new play by Jewelle Gomez. This two-act, eight-actor, multi-character drama with songs will feature the original song, Lettie’s Blues, by the world-renowned musician/composer Toshi Reagon. “Leaving the Blues” is the second work in “Words and Music,” Gomez’s trilogy about African-American artists in the first half of the 20th century and will be produced by the award-winning theater company TOSOS (The Other Side Of Silence). TOSOS produced the first play in the trilogy, “Waiting for Giovanni,” about James Baldwin, written with Harry Waters, Jr., last year.

What does a nurse who is told to retire at age seventy (but who is really eighty-two since she once lied about her age) do next with her life? “Leaving the Blues” opens on the day of Alberta Hunter’s retirement from nursing, when she is despondent and cannot imagine what comes next.

Half singing, half whispering, she tells her unseen patient with some evident sadness, “Trouble, looks like I had it all my day … looks like trouble will follow me to my grave.” But what if, as she reflects on her last day of work, a ghost suddenly appears in tux, white gloves, and top hat from her past circuit-club days of the 1920s-1950s, dancing across the floor, fanning himself with an old picture of him smiling in blackface? And what if said specter insists she get on a waiting train to revisit her past? What is a woman to do but up and go?

Hop onto that imaginary train with famed African-American blues and jazz singer and songwriter Alberta Hunter as she follows the long-dead black comedian Bert Williams (Will), now her glad-handed guide and conductor. After all, he is promising to stir up enough memories of her past successes, friends, and loves to encourage her to return to the successful career she left some twenty years past in the late 1950s. Hunter’s life story, rife with danger and uncertainty but also thrills, lays bare the tension that our racial and sexual histories create inside all of us and the danger that history can be to our ability to love.

“I’m always searching for stories that reclaim the LGBTQ community’s presence and participation in our country’s history and culture. So, ‘Leaving the Blues’ is a perfect fit for us,” said TOSOS artistic director Mark Finley. “Not only does this beautiful play celebrate the perfectionism and drive of Alberta Hunter the artist, but it also humanizes the sacrifices she made to survive in a world determined to minimize her. Jewelle Gomez writes about the collision of racial and queer identities against a rich shifting time/place backdrop with a grace and poignancy that continues to startle, amaze and inspire me. And the music is awesome. I’m so excited to be working on ‘Leaving the Blues’!”

“Leaving the Blues” is produced by TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), directed by Mark Finley and begins previews January 16th at The Flea Theater, where it runs through February 8th, 2020. Performances are at 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday (Tickets start at $30, plus a $2 renovation fee). To purchase or find out more information, visit www.theflea.org. Tickets are available by phone at (866) 811-4111 and at the box office of the Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, New York, NY, 10017. Box office hours: 12p – 7p weekdays, 5p – 7p weekends.


Jewelle Gomez is the author of eight books including the Lambda Award-winning classic, “The Gilda Stories,” which has been in print since 1991. Her play, “Bones and Ash,” based on “The Gilda Stories,” was commissioned by the Urban Bush Women Company. “Waiting for Giovanni” is the first play in the trilogy, “Words and Music,” about African American artists in the early part of the 20th century. The second play, “Leaving the Blues,” about singer/composer Alberta Hunter, premiered at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center, where she is Playwright-in-Residence, in 2017. She is currently working on “Unpacking at Ptown,” the third play in the trilogy, which will premier in 2021. Visit JewelleGomez.com or Jewelle Gomez’s blog.

Mark Finley (Director) is the artistic director of TOSOS and has directed many of its acclaimed productions including Doric Wilson’s “Street Theater” a 2016 IT Award Winner for Outstanding Revival. He made his Off-Broadway directorial debut with Chris Weikel’s “Penny Penniworth,” and most recently directed the TOSOS production of Byron Loyd’s “Rebel Boy Fireworks” (which premiered at the United Solo Arts Festival) and Virginia Baeta’s “Damaged Goods” (Emerging Artists). Mark is also an author, an actor and a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence) is New York City’s oldest and longest producing professional LGBTQ+ theater company. In 1974, Off-Off-Broadway veteran Doric Wilson, cabaret star Billy Blackwell and director Peter dell Valle, started the first professional gay theatre company in NYC. It was called The Other Side of Silence—TOSOS for short. In 2002, directors Mark Finley and Barry Childs and playwright Wilson resurrected TOSOS. The company has produced over 30 mainstage shows and so many readings of new plays and works in progress we have trouble counting them all. www.tososnyc.org

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