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The Blue Vagabond

The "War on Poverty" is long gone and, since Reagan's presidency as military budgets have risen and social services declined, the homeless in America have been further marginalized. Yet, the problem not only persists, it has gotten worse. Most of us, though, like our current administration, do our darnedest to ignore it.

In Arcos Azules' current production of The Blue Vagabond, homelessness, poverty, and the psychological and emotional issues that accompany these conditions are placed squarely in front of us, forcing us to see what is going on just a short distance from our front doors and insular lives.

Wearing a tattered denim jacket, pushing a shopping cart filled with all his earthly possessions, KW Brock Johnson is the Blue Vagabond; singing as he makes his way through Denver neighborhoods, he scours dumpsters for food, clothing, alcohol, and baubles.

But the Blue Vagabond is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill panhandler or wino—he's a street philosopher and storyteller with extemporaneous skills in poetry and song. Each personal sidewalk encounter for him is not only an opportunity to sing for his supper and earn a few bucks toward a cheap bottle of wine—it's a potentially life-altering experience.

Using his considerable vocal and physical skills, Johnson slides into this role like he would a pair of old blue jeans, moving easily from blues singer to hustler to improvisational artist—anything to hook passersby and earn his meal ticket. On the flip side, his haunting bouts with personal demons offers us an astonishing portrait of the mental struggles of the homeless.

Passing a bus stop one day, he runs into Valerie, a young woman who's having a rough time of it, hit on by her boss' husband and two-timed by her boyfriend. In the face of the Blue Vagabond's persistent advances, Valerie vacillates between annoyed commuter and amused audience, finally resolving her feelings as a charmed participant.

Photo of KW Brock Johnson (the Blue Vagabond and Katharyn Grant (police officer)
KW Brock Johnson
as the Blue Vagabond and
Katharyn Grant as a police officer
Katharyn Grant deftly handles the nuances of Valerie's swiftly changing emotional landscape—from confused and angry to sensitive and caring—as the scene progresses. Later, Grant reappears as a tough-as-nails cop, an arrogant and ruthless CEO, and a touchy-feely software mogul, each time crafting a definitive characterization.

Director Dwayne Carrington consistently generates compelling dynamics between the two actors and maintains a crisp pace throughout.

Billed as an urban fable, the script's fantastic elements are generally imaginative and instructive; the only blemishes in the production are a smattering of passages in which the text falls into unnecessary moralizing—where the audience has already been shown what is being described, or where the audience would be better left to draw their own conclusions. Some judicious edits would take care of most of this.

The beauty of the rest of the script, its timeless message of compassion for those on the street and its reminder of how short a fall such a life would be for most of us, makes The Blue Vagabond as compelling an evening of theatre as you're likely to find anywhere. It runs through September 26th at the Theatre Du Quirque (the old Avenue Theater). 720-394-6198.

Bob Bows

 

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