Consider any group or gathering of people, from nations to corporations to book clubs, and you can probably find a power struggle if you look long enough. Despite being houses of God, churches provide the stage for leadership crises and backbiting surprisingly often, and True Colors Theatre's production of The Amen Corner offers a textbook example of a bloodless coup. Hard-line Sister Margaret (Denise Burse) leads a small Harlem church in 1954, but disgruntled parishioners, led by pious Sister Moore (Margo Moorer) and confrontational Sister Boxer (Chandra Currelley), plot to undermine her authority.
Directed by Andrea Frye, The Amen Corner offers a canny portrayal of internal politicking in a church, full of cheerful but stinging humor about religious hypocrisy. The play's parallel plot about Sister Margaret's family troubles doesn't prove similarly blessed, however. Sister Margaret, who spent years as a single mother, tries to keep her restless musician son (Ronve O'Daniel) close to home. Then his father, Luke (Thomas Jefferson Byrd), a long-absent jazzman, appears at Sister Margaret's home, coughs a few times and collapses in a convenient death bed.
Byrd's performance undeniably creates a vivid, specific character, like some kind of jazz-era ghost. The actor draws out his lines so slowly, however, that his scenes move at a snail's pace, and prove to be some of the most dated and obvious in the 50-year-old play. Playwright James Baldwin, author of novels such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, relies on some extremely creaky contrivances to get his plot in motion.
Vince Mountain's set places the church upstairs from Sister Margaret's apartment and seems perfectly realistic for the era. But the pulpit and church seats face each other at an angle perpendicular to the audience, so the cramped preaching scenes at times play away from the ticket-buyers. True Colors artistic director Kenny Leon directed The Amen Corner at the Alliance Theatre in 1996, and that production's less representational stage implied a cathedral-sized church. It had far more theatrical impact, even if it was less faithful to the letter of the play. As Sister Margaret in 1996, Carol Mitchell-Leon gave one of the most fiery, charismatic performances I've ever seen on the Alliance stage, and Burse seems more restrained by comparison, even though she gives a focused, impeccable portrayal of Sister Margaret's emphasis on piety over humanity.
True Colors' The Amen Corner gathers a glorious chorus of diva actresses, with Burse, Currelley and the hilarious Moorer joined by golden-voiced Bernardine Mitchell in a small role, and Marguerite Hannah as Sister Margaret's loyal sibling. The setting permits brief but numerous gospel choir interludes such as "Down by the Riverside." Despite the uplifting power of the music, The Amen Corner's length and sluggish qualities make the production fall short of reaching the heavens.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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