By Anthony D'Alessandro
By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
The gesture is not quite as impetuous as it seems; Richardson acted in the first staging of Joe Louis Blues, playing the pivotal role of beleaguered real-life jazzman Sidney Bechet. It’s a role that Richardson still takes to heart. “No one sounded like him then or has sounded like him since,” he says enthusiastically. “He brought his total self to the music — on pure instinct. As a director I try to work that way. I love to get in a room and see what happens. Improvisation! The only thing you have is trust. The more I fall, the more I’ll be okay.” He laughs. “I’m actually better equipped to play Bechet now than [in ’92]. He was a consummate artist who played in dives.”
Earlier this year, Mayer had difficulty running down Richardson, who had fallen on hard times and for a period was virtually impossible to reach. But the agreement between Mayer, Richardson and Tiffany producer Holt to mount Joe Louis Blues was reached auspiciously enough. Rehearsals were another matter. They were scheduled to begin September 11.
“I live in Jersey City,” says Richardson. “It took the wind right out of my sails. I saw the plane go into the building, and it was like a punch to the kidney, like Joe Louis said, ‘You hit me there and you got me.’ For me, it took two weeks to start directing. Finally we said, ‘We’ve got to say our piece.’”
Mayer agrees that the experience of trying to focus on the show in the aftermath of September 11 was a harsh but valuable lesson, artistically. His collaboration with Richardson has yielded not only a closer bond in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but a willingness to change a work that he considered finished years ago: This Joe Louis Blues features a new character that he added with Richardson’s input. Richardson himself, in typical experimental fashion, has incorporated dance into the play. “This is a big canvas, a big play, and it’s got all the issues of now in it,” he says.
“Lee’s really kept his eyes on the prize,” Mayer says. “Paula and I could have gone with a safer director, a more stable one. Or we could put it all on the line with a guy like Lee.”
Richardson admits there were certainly easier but less rewarding ways to mount the show. “Joe Louis Blues will give L.A. a chance to see what L. Kenneth Richardson is up to,” he says, his big voice edged with a bit of mischief. “I think it’ll make a stink.”
JOE LOUIS BLUES | By OLIVER MAYER At the TIFFANY THEATER, 8532 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood | Through December 23