It might be tempting to never leave the environs of Fort Fringe, but, forget that and make the trek up to Jin Lounge just north of U street for Shaina Lynn’s engaging one-woman show Bayou Blues, and you won’t be disappointed.
Having the show at a bar is an invitation to the audience to get into the spirit of Shaina’s native New Orleans, where some of the greatest cultural institutions also happen to be drinking establishments. It was happy hour when I arrived, and I was able to get a $5 mojito and enjoy the atomosphere before the show began.
Lynn uses a variety of storytelling techniques–including straight monologue, dance, spoken-word poetry, recorded sound, and even rap–to convey her experiences of growing up as a Black girl in New Orleans. I found some of her stories very relatable, like when she played a younger version of herself talking about her excitement about eating King Cake for Mardi Gras. At other times, her stories were heartbreaking, like when she recalled what it felt like to be taunted not just for being Black, but for being a dark-skinned Black woman at that.
Hurricane Katrina is a continuous presence throughout the show, though it’s not about the storm. Transitions between monologues or characters are frequently marked with alarmingly loud rumbles of thunder played through the lounge’s sound system, giving the impression that the hurricane looms menacingly over all of the events described. However, not until the last 10 or so minutes of the play (after a very unnecessary 5-minute intermission) does Shaina address the storm directly, focusing on the panicked phone calls with family members about needing to evacuate.
by Shaina Lynn
at Jin Lounge
2017 14th St NW,
Washington, DC 20009
Details and tickets
The weaknesses of Bayou Blues stemmed mainly from the choice of venue. Having the show at a bar made sense as an artistic choice, but the setup at Jin Lounge was designed more for dance-music DJs than for actors. Most of the time, Shaina performed from a raised area at the front of the bar, but the ambient lighting was dim and there was no additional lighting on the stage area.
There were some sound problems, too–the sound system was clearly optimized for dance music and often played sound cues much too loud, and Shaina’s voice echoed off of the space’s many hard surfaces. It was sometimes a little difficult to hear what she was saying. That said, she made a good attempt to use the entire bar space to her advantage, occasionally running out past the seats and even having an assistant toss Mardi Gras beads to the audience from the DJ booth.
But the real reason to see this show is Shaina Lynn. It is a delight to watch such a talented actress using her many skills, and I look forward to seeing more of what she has to offer to the theatre community in DC.