DOO LISTER’S BLUES, New Onyx Theatre Company and Blue Light Theatre Company, at the Performance Loft. Chicago native Terry Abrahamson spins a tale set during the race riots of the late 60s that stands out only for its excesses. “Doo” Lister, a west-side barber who wants to be a bluesman, finds inspiration when his brother, a Vietnam draft protester, is cut down by police bullets. Doo’s music suddenly matures, from a ditty comparing love to chocolate cake to an antiwar talking blues that becomes a late-night hit on WVON. It triggers the wrath of the FBI (here apparently working for the FCC), and Doo is jailed for inciting a riot.
Ranging from melodrama to sitcom, the overlong script is slowed by too many blackouts and several endings. But Abrahamson has a good ear for the way real people talk: his barbershop dialogue recalls August Wilson at his most fanciful, vibrantly evoking an era so backward that the FBI believed African-Americans would riot only under instructions from Moscow–racism at its most insidious.
Victor Cole’s on-target staging makes even the contrivances count. Michael Kevin Martin is hilarious as Doo’s colleague and champion, Carol E. Hall devoted as Doo’s wife, and Gillian Geraghty authentic as a Jewish record wholesaler with idealism to spare. But the powerhouse here is Freeman Coffey as Doo, his deadpan wisecracks as convincing as his anger.