Categories

The Amen Corner ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 19, 2020 

Sometimes I feel like I could jump right out of my skin when I see a production as thrilling as The Amen Corner.  Straight out of the gate, we find ourselves as guests in the electrifying spirit of an African American church service.  Amens and hallelujahs fill the air in synchronized rhythm to a soulful choir while worshippers fall into singing, shouting, clapping, stomping and praising the Lord.  Oh, the voices – rich, earthy tones, clear as a bell, filled with sanctifying praise and mellifluous harmonies.  I can’t sit still.  It’s a toe-tapping, arms-outstretched-to-heaven sensation.

Deidre LaWan Starnes as Sister Boxer and Mia Ellis as Margaret Alexander – Photo by Scott Suchman

Onstage a few of the gathered sit in chairs beside the pulpit in what is called “the amen corner”, but all are moved by the soaring rhetoric of Sister Margaret.  “This here is a Holy Ghost station,” she calls out to the faithful as they sway and fan themselves, bonding through rituals rooted in ancient community.

Mia Ellis as Margaret Alexander and Antonio Michael Woodard as David – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Brilliantly directed by Whitney White, James Baldwin’s play focuses on Sister Margaret, a Black female pastor who falls from grace when her own fallibility is revealed.  Forces within the church begin to undermine her.  They challenge her decisions, gossip behind her back, and conspire to fight back against her rigid edicts.  “You ain’t better than the rest of us,” one of the elders tells her while Sister Moore pits the congregation against her through rumor and innuendo.

Chiké Johnson as Luke and Mia Ellis as Margaret Alexander – Photo by Scott Suchman.

The play/musical draws directly from Baldwin’s own life as the son of a preacher.  In the same way Baldwin’s art called to him in a louder voice than the word of God, young David rebels against the constrictive life his mother has laid out for him.  “Mom, if a person don’t feel it, he don’t feel it,” he tells her.  When Luke, his absent father, returns home to live out his last few months, David finds the strength to break the chains that bind him to home and church.  Baldwin’s own experience as a child pastor lends power and insight to the hierarchy of the Black church universe.

Harriett D. Foy as Odessa – photo by Scott Suchman.

Each character is exquisitely defined by Baldwin, and it is easy to feel the depth of his frustration with the hypocrisy he experienced, all in the name of a higher power.  Simon Godwin, STC’s new Artistic Director, sees the tragedies and hypocrisies as keenly as if Shakespeare had written them himself.  “I was struck by the similarities to Shakespeare’s work – the domestic and spiritual tragedies and the play’s classical structure,” he writes.

Antonio Michael Woodard as David and Mia Ellis as Margaret Alexander – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Expect an outstanding cast with some of the best, and most soulful, choir-trained voices from DC’s musical theatre scene, and a large stage set that segues from intimate – Luke’s death bed and Margaret’s kitchen – to the power-and-glory atmosphere of a veritable come-to-Jesus house of praise.

Chiké Johnson as Luke – Photo by Scott Suchman.

People get ready.  This is highly recommended!

With Mia Ellis as Sister Margaret Alexander; Harriett D. Foy as Odessa (Margaret’s older sister; Jasmine M. Rush as Ida Jackson; Antonio Michael Woodward as David; Chiké Johnson as Luke.  Church Elders: E. Faye Butler as Sister Moore; Deidra LaWan Starnes as Sister Boxer; Phil McGlaston as Brother Boxer.  Member of the Congregation: Lauryn Simone as Sister Sally; Nova Y. Payton as Sister Douglass; Jade Jones as Sister Rice; Marty Austin Lamar as Brother Davis and Choir Director; Tristan André Parks as Brother Washington.

The cast of The Amen Corner – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Directed by Whitney White; Assistant Director, Manna-Symone Middlebrooks; Victor Simonson, Music Director; Scenic Design by Daniel Soule; Costume Design by Andy Jean; Lighting Design by Adam Honoré; Sound Design by Broken Chord.

Through March 22nd the Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Sidney Harmon Hall at 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

Comments are closed.