‘I Just Stopped By to See the Man’
Playing at The Hertz Theatre
Not for blues lovers only, “I Just Stopped By to See the Man” stands out for its interesting storyline and talented cast.
To increase his lagging popularity, a white British rock musician tries to exploit the talents of an old forgotten black blues player from Mississippi. Perhaps not too far from some truthful accounts, this fictional story is brought to life at the Hertz Theatre.
The play, which takes place in the Mississippi Delta in the 1970s, mixes drama, comedy and just a couple of blues numbers, but in no way is it a Musical. British rock musician Karl (Dieterich Gray) plays guitar well and whips up images of Russell Brand, donning tight cranberry, velvety bell bottoms with a matching jacket. He’ll make you laugh and cringe. Gray has performed at Yale Repertory, the Goodman Theatre and this same role at Steppenwolf.
Jesse (Charles Bevel), who sold his soul to the devil to play guitar, faked his death 14 years ago to exorcise that demon. Since then, he has refrained from playing the blues as over time it became the source of his pain. Jesse appears to be the real thing, an original blues musician born in the early 1900s who likely can’t even write. When his college educated daughter, Della (Bakesta King), asks him to write a note to Karl, he asks her to write it. (In 1981 at a concert in New York, I asked Big Joe Turner to sign the album I had just purchased from him. He drew an “X.”)
Part of the reason Bevel is so believable as Jesse is that he is a native of the Mississippi Delta, he’s a blues musician–he has opened concerts for Taj Mahal and B.B. King–and he’s a seasoned actor who has appeared on Broadway.
Written by Stephen Jeffreys and directed by Ron OJ Parson, “I Just Stopped By to See the Man” runs through April 8 at the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre.