PSCS opens new season with ‘Your Blues’

In choosing its season’s content, Penn State Centre Stage has a legacy of championing deep conversations — some happy, some tragic, but all with a depth that resonates.

Opening with “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine” pulls a double whammy — at least. If you were expecting a sendup of some of America’s finest music, yes, there’s mention of it, even a riff on piano. But if “Blues” begins with playful banter calling out the great African American names of music, literature and politics, it migrates way beyond to the precarious, unflattering ground of race and history in America and dares to ask: Who is responsible for America’s past –and its future?

Director Steve Broadnax has assembled and let loose five live wires of the stage for this show, penned by multi-award winning actor-director Ruben Santiago Hudson.

Jordan Cooper and Eric Brian Robinson have an intriguing, edgy chemistry as Judith, the sophisticated white feature writer, and Zeke, her would-be subject, the African American Good Samaritan doing his part to change the world. Make it Judith’s dinner party, sprinkle in Gregory Bennett and Johnique Mitchell, and sparks fly, as racial stereotypes get tossed up and blurred by social station, broken up here and there by lacings of humor.

It’s when we glimpse Wendell B. Franklin, as Zeke’s aging, reclusive mentor, Zebedee, a black World War II veteran, that the power of who we are and what we have experienced are laid bare, like a wound, or maybe a sparkling gem. With all his wisdom, Zebedee makes it clear that it’s not the old, wise ones that will repair America and true its course forward.

The season blazes forward Oct. 3 through 8 with “Sweet Charity,” the tale of Charity Hope Valentine’s gutsy song-and-dance search for the right man at the Fan-Dango Ballroom, while her girlfriends hold out for the better lives they deserve.

The search theme continues Oct. 24 through Nov. 3 with “Argonautika,” a fresh rendition of Jason’s epic quest for the Golden Fleece, a tale of ambition, deception, danger, love and honor.

PSCS then forges forward on Nov. 15 and 16 with “Cosi Fan Tutte,” a fully produced tragicomic opera with a dazzling Mozart score. Worldly and experienced, Don Alfonso decides to relieve two young friends of their faith in romantic love. He challenges them to a bet, promising that within 24 hours, their fiancees will prove unfaithful, while ultimately the two men break their own hearts and the hearts of their fiancees.

Stagegoers are brought back to modern times Feb. 13 through 24 with Joe Iconis’ nerve-stirring “Love in Hate Nation,” the first project in a new musicals initiative in Penn State Musical Theatre. A writing team visits the junior musical theatre majors each spring, where the students sing for the writers and get to know each other artistically, and the writers depart and write the first draft of a musical. They return throughout the students’ senior year to work on the development of the show, culminating in New York and State College performances. A romance set in a 1960s juvenile hall for girls, “Love” takes “bad girl” movies as the inspiration for a story of young people in a changing America seeking freedom from the limits forged by society.

The season will roar to a dramatic close April 3 to 7 with “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Winner of the 1993 Tony Award for best musical, “Kiss” follows a homosexual window dresser in prison in a Latin American country for corrupting a minor. His fantasy life behind bars includes the spider woman, who kills with her kiss.