Set at a time when the regentrification process began to change the look and tone of Harlem, Black Spectrum Theatre’s current offering, “Bubba’s Fish Market,” totally immerses its audiences in the period. From the well-coiffed Afros that announce the arrival of several cast members to the decor of the main set — the fish market of the title, complete with enviable prices on the chalkboard — to the musical soundtrack that punctuates each scene, the entire piece is a throwback to a time that now exists only in memory.
Written by the late Marlene Carole Chavis, a longtime member of the Spectrum company who passed away shortly after the play’s completion, the play would be hard to classify. It offers plenty of laughs, but it’s not an outright comedy. It deals with several serious issues, but it ends on a happy note, so it wouldn’t be called a tragedy.
In short, it’s a reflection of life.
The story focuses on main character Eugene Jones, known to all as Bubba, who, as the play opens, is on the verge of losing the establishment, a storefront fish market and restaurant that has been his livelihood and life for some 15 years.
Outside the store, crowds of supporters gather to protest against his ousting.
Bubba’s group of regular customers stops in to offer words of encouragement, talk about matters both minor and life-altering, and, yes, even have a platter of fish — acknowledged by one and all as the best around.
As portrayed by Au Hogan, Bubba is a likable host, a man who always has time to cater to the needs of those around him, even as he feels his own world crumbling.
Among the supporting players who stand out are Vanessa Pringle and Lisa Roxanne Walter, as a pair of friends who had become separated during their teen years, only to be reunited and discover they share a lot more in common than they could have imagined. They offer spirited, believable portraits.
Marcha Tracey gets most of the evening’s laughs as the neighborhood busybody, a woman of some years who wears multicolored feathered hats and spends most of her time assessing how busy she, not to mention everyone else, is.
Brian Barzey brings an appropriate casualness to the role of Fred, another of the ever-present figures in the restaurant. Sean Turner turns up late in the proceedings to make a strong impression as a man with an even stronger connection to one of the other characters. Jimmy Gary Jr. puts his hulking size to good use as the play’s heavy.
Under the guiding hand of Bette Howard, the theater’s resident director, the staging takes advantage of the play’s episodic nature, moving smoothly from one scene to another. Transitions between time periods are clearly and effortlessly realized.
The evocative set, designed by Ajene Washington, and colorful array of costumes, from the imagination of Tracey, enhance the overall effect.
At two and a half hours, the play could benefit from some trimming, but the time spent with Bubba and friends is a trip back into history worth taking.
Upcoming attractions at Black Spectrum Theatre include “Dumas,” a tribute to the author of “The Three Musketeers,” A Night of Comedy with Phyllis Stickney and Guests, and a new children’s series that kicks off with “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Remaining performances of “Bubba’s Fish Market” will be held Oct. 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $30.
The theater is located in Roy Wilkins Park, at 177th Street and Baisley Boulevard, in Jamaica. For further information on any of the performances, call (718) 723-1800 or visit blackspectrum.com.