Set in 2002, “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine” revolves around four characters discussing race and human relationships. But despite taking place 15 years in the past, the issues the play addresses are frighteningly fresh.
On Friday, Penn State Centre Stage will officially open its fall season with the poignant play, directed by Steve Broadnax.
Jordan Cooper plays the character of Judith, a freelance journalist. Looking to write a cover story on the resilience of New Yorkers following 9/11, Judith is not only looking to enhance her career, but to nurture a potential romantic relationship as well.
“She works for The New York Times in the obituaries sections, but she really wants to do this specific story on this one particular man, who she’s clearly infatuated with ... and that’s the character of Zeke,” Cooper said. “She’s a very interesting character — very well-educated, poignant, professional, but she also is kind of a groovy lady. She’s got a lot of soul and she knows a lot about a lot.”
It’s when the characters of Judith, Zeke and two others come together for a dinner party that conflict arises, in part because of the characters’ ardent beliefs and unapologetic frankness, which Cooper lists as one of her favorite aspects of the play.
“No one seems to skirt around anything,” she said. “Everyone is very ‘of their beliefs’ and ‘of their person’ and I think that is a value I admire in people in general, and I admire in these characters as well. No one is afraid to speak their mind at all.”
Theatre-goers can expect these highly-educated characters to bring facts, figures and culturally significant names and events into their blunt conversations. Cooper said there’s a large amount of historical context within the play, with characters dropping names and dates that are significant to their own journeys and viewpoints, a facet which has required a large amount of research from the cast.
Beyond the characters, Cooper’s other favorite aspect is the timeliness of the production.
“How immediately topical (the play) is for our current world is pretty crazy,” she said. “I feel like the state of our nation is very (much reflected) in this specific show, even though it’s based 15 years ago, especially with all of these current uprisings with white supremacy and white nationalists and Nazi groups happening. ... It’s about where human prejudice and racism is, and our understanding of each others’ cultural backgrounds.”
Beyond racial issues and other prejudices, Cooper named human connections and communication as other subjects the play addresses, particularly with the ever-increasing use of technology.
“It’s very difficult to have any rational, heart-to-heart, understanding conversation with a person who may have a different view than you on any sort of subject and ... people tend to hide behind a facade of technology, to speak things they probably wouldn’t say to a person if they had human-to-human contact. It’s about genuine human contact and how we behave in discussing difficult topics.”
It’s these issues that make “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine” appealing to any audience.
“I personally would like to reach people on both sides of any argument, or anything that would be a hot topic of discussion, specifically what’s happening with people of different skin colors in our nation, people of different religious faiths and seeing why we can’t meet on an equal playing field to discuss our different views — not just yell at each other, shut each other out, but actually sit and listen and try to hear where others are coming from,” Cooper said.
After two days of previews, “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Line Mine” officially opens on Friday.
IF YOU GO
- What: Penn State Centre Stage’s “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine”
- When: through Sept. 13
- Where: Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St., State College
- Info: theatre.psu.edu