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I Just Stopped By to See the Man

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I Just Stopped By to See the Man, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. If you're devoted to the blues, you're the audience member playwright Stephen Jeffreys has in mind: he takes an incredibly long time to offer any real stakes in this story of long-lost blues innovator Jesse Davidson, his troubled daughter Della, and a would-be protege, Carl. Davidson escaped soul-compromising fame 15 years earlier by faking his own death and holing up in a Mississippi shotgun shack. Then his college-educated daughter shows up, mysteriously abandoning a teaching position to sling hash in a backwater diner. Superstar blues-rocker Carl, whose international tour stopped at a nearby football stadium, has a hunch that his idol is still alive and breaks into just the right house to confirm his suspicions.

The setup is promising, but Jeffreys spends the first act demonstrating instead of dramatizing: characters explain their pasts and bare their souls in response to authorial convenience rather than psychological necessity. In the second act, as Carl tries to lure Davidson back onstage, Jeffreys finally gives us something to care about.

To their great credit, director Randall Arney and his passionate, thoughtful cast give even the most artificial moments a natural ease. Anthony Chisholm, Yvette Ganier, and Jim True-Frost spend three hours in near perfect sync, turning Jeffreys's schematic script into a compelling human saga.

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