12/18/2020     BLUES FOR JOHNNY RAVEN             Georgia Ensemble Theatre

It was a week before Christmas, and I was feeling anything but festive.  The cold of an Atlanta autumn had seeped into my bones like the icy stares from an ex-spouse.  The liquor supply was dry, and my part-time roommate and full-time spouse was off flying the skies of America tending to the spoiled yahoos who didn’t believe in no-travel pandemic restrictions.


It was just me and my crippled laptop, a loyal sidekick whose missing “T” key had cos  me  oo many hours of copy-edi ing rework and whose narrow bandwidth had none of the appeal of a narrow-waisted torch singer.


If only an online event would knock on my door and send me into a swirling eddy of semi-theatrical bliss!

Fortunately, Georgia Ensemble Theatre has another collaboration with Atlanta Radio Theatre on tap, Blues for Johnny Raven, which promises a short running time, and a noir-soaked ambience.  Unfortunately, access to it ends Sunday at midnight, so I would have to write about immediately after watching it, my normal habit of healthy procrastinating simply not an option.


As a bluesy saxophone – it’s always a bluesy saxophone – wails its plaintive theme, we see a cast of actors on a blue-cyc-backed stage, sitting the requisite six feet apart, music stands presumably holding scripts.  Before the blues have a chance to modulate, the tallest and private-eye-est of the lot ventures forth and sprays us with a machine-gun-rhythm spurt of exposition.


We are in the “Loop.”  An alternate universe that uses meta-plot devices and sound ambience to engage us.  Johnny Raven is a detective who specializes in ambience, layered ambience, that onion of sound and effect and music and off-mike-voice that can flavor any plot better than the onion it resembles flavors a marinade.  When the “Plot” walks in, it is on stiletto heels, and is in the form of a seductive red-head named Gloria Kinsolving, a narrow-waisted torch singer who fears someone is trying to kill her.


Johnny Raven takes the case and is soon immersed in a bubbling cauldron of illicit ambience dealers and mooks with names like Benny the Gospel and Lorenzo Gold and Prowse (just Prowse).  Double-crosses run rampant and come out of nowhere like the sudden kiss at the end of an angry fist.  But Johnny Raven has smarts (ish) and a secret edge which will remain a secret.  I am nothing if not fearful of the goon squad employed by the Spoiler Police.


It doesn’t take much bourbon to let loose my babbling praise, which is good since I have none.  As I already mentioned, my liquor cabinet is drier than a Methodist Grandma’s {Deleted by the arbiters of good taste}. I loved this production from beginning to end.  The cast engages their characters and us and just won’t let go, enjoying themselves immensely all through, that enjoyment coming through and infecting our own stream-of-consciousness narrative.


Robin Bloodworth, late of many G.E.T. productions, plays Johnny Raven like the smarter cousin of Philip Marlowe, relishing his moments of meta-commentary on the off-mike voices and saxo-phony blues-track.  As Gloria, Christina Leidel is every red-blooded hetero-male’s (and non-hetero-female’s) fever dream, wearing a slinky dress that should carry warning labels, and working those stilettos like the ultimate back-stabber she just may reveal herself to be.  Jay Jones is suitably shady as Benny the Gospel (so-called because everything he says is the “Gospel Truth”), and Matt Goodson is Peter-Lorre-slimy as ambience-dealer Lorenzo Gold.  Other roles are filled to perfection by Caroline Ficken, Tamil Periasamy, Thomas Trinh, and Marcus Hopkins-Turner.


The piece was written by  Thomas E. Fuller and directed by James Donadio, and they work as well together as Scotch and Rocks, creating a pace and an ambience that positively drips with noir, puddles of hard-boiled attitude strewn hither and yon like stray curses from a drunken sailor.  The bluesy score is “composed and performed by Unheard Music Concepts,” and, believe me when I say they deserve to be un-unheard.  Last and certainly not least, to give credit where it's due, the true ambience dealer is Sound and Audio designer Preston Goodson, who creates the auditory structure of "The Loop" with grace and skill and aplomb.


Blues for Johnny Raven is only available until Sunday Night, and you are well advised to follow the clues to finding it,   Would I lie to you?


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy   #BluesForJohnnyRaven  #GET)

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