Amen is being performed by the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre, Inc. (AAPACT) through March 17 at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 N.W. 22nd Ave., in Miami’s Liberty City.
Admission is $20, discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more, parking is free. Call 305-456-0287 or visit aapact.com
In the play, Baldwin, who grew up in the church as the oldest of nine children and the stepson of a minister, dissects the social mores of church folk. He incorporates such stock church characters as Ms. Moore (Carolyn Johnson), an older woman who boasts about never being touched by a man.
There are Mr. and Mrs. Boxer (Regina Hopkins Hodges and Lamar Hodges), who divide their time between complaining about Margaret and stirring up strife. And there’s Mrs. Ida Jackson (Sarah Gracel Anderson), a newlywed with an infant whose husband does not go to church with her.
Watching Amen Corner, one may wonder about Baldwin’s purpose for the play. Is he commenting on lady pastors, and their capability of running a church? Is he trying to say that no
matter how holy people try to be, they still have sin? Or is he really writing a play about forgiveness?
It’s all three.
Judging by Amen’s ending, one could make the case that Baldwin, like many men, isn’t too keen on lady pastors.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having women lead congregations; if they can lead in the boardroom, surely they can lead a church of people.
By having Margaret, Ms. Moore, and Margaret’s sister Odessa (Janet Toni Mason) keep themselves pure from the touch of a man, there’s an outward appearance of purity.
Only two of the three actually admit to once “knowing a man.” They represent two aspects of a single church lady’s spectrum, in which a woman stays a spinster, or has been with a man but chooses to keep chaste, but the spinster seems to be lying to herself, and to others, about her own purity.
The play’s ultimate theme, however, is Margaret’s forgiveness of her husband Luke (Andre L. Gainey), who she left to pursue a religious life. Luke shows up deathly ill and seeks Margaret’s companionship in his final days. Margaret in un-Christian manner goes out of town, leaving Luke and their son David (Jeffery Cason Jr.), to get to know each other.
When Margaret returns she continues to pretend that Luke doesn’t exist, until she no longer can ignore the dying man in her bed.
Seward as “Sister Margaret” gives a rousing monologue in Amen’s opening minutes. Her fiery speech produces an electric vibe amongst audience members, who instantly feel as if they are in church. In a testament to her acting prowess, Seward embodies Margaret, from the way she carries herself to the way she uses her tall stature to intimidate members who get a little mouthy from time to time.
Likewise, Johnson is so good at being hypocritical Ms. Moore that one would love to hate her. Ms. Moore is under the impression that just because she says she’s never been touched by a man, and sits on her high horse looking down at the members, that people actually believe her. But of course, they don’t.
Mason’s Odessa is the only person in Margaret’s corner. Although petite compared to her tall, theatrical sister, she is the backbone of this play, the behind-the-scenes character the audience can look to know what’s really going on. Mason practically narrates the story with the emotions that play across her face at precise moments.
KUDOS FOR HARRELL
Kudos to Teddy Harrell Jr., who directed this version of The Amen Corner. Harrell not only fit three stages into the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center’s box theater, he also gets his actors to work and play with seamless chemistry. It’s not easy to get such a great group dynamic as with the 15-member cast of The Amen Corner. Once you’ve gotten it, it’s best to hold onto it for as long as you can.
While Baldwin’s ending will leave many a feminist on edge, the play as a whole is a good exploration in theater dynamics and what it means to be so holier-than-thou that you miss the big picture.
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