Through October 8
THE AMEN CORNER Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
There are millennia of stories about (mostly) sons refusing to follow the parental path in making life choices.
Of course, some do.
In James Baldwinís ďThe Amen Corner,Ē Margaret Alexander (Janelle Cooper) expects son David (Andrew Broderick) to take over her struggling church in Manhattanís mid-Twentieth Century Harlem, on a path she has developed for him.
You can see where this is going from early on, as the infighting between mother and son grows and the stranger arrives and makes it all worse.
He isnít really the stranger, since the seriously ill Luke (Allan Louis) is Sister Margaretís estranged husband and Davidís father.
Itís a story she has elided in becoming a dynamic preacher in a church so small on Anahita Dehbonehieís set for the Shaw Festival that the church is in a near-attic second floor and Sister Margaret and David live in an apartment on the first floor, with a stairway connection used by all.
Itís one of the more elaborate sets from the Shaw, since the structure must hold up to 19 people on that second floor and hold together as the two-story brick (looking) building revolves on stage, with the set designed to be taken apart and removed for different performance day schedules.
This is an evangelical church, with loud prayer services dominated by singing, lots of singing of hymns from the Black church, all well done, along with those colorful choir robes so common in those churches.
This is a church with tensions, reflected when Sister Moore (Monica Parks) watches Sister Margaretís family falling apart in the wake of Lukeís arrival and the pastorís departure for a somewhat mysterious visit to an affiliated church in Philadelphia.
Sister Moore stages a coup, symbolized by sitting in the pastorís chair.
Apparently, Sister Margaret became pastor in an earlier coup against Elder King, something remembered by more active church members.
David is oblivious to all of this.
Heís distracted by those teen things on city streets and trying to better understand his musician father.
The congregation members are trying very hard to separate themselves from the packed urban life surrounding them, something Davidís behavior exemplifies.
While this is going on, Sister Margaretís actual sister, Odessa (Alana Bridgewater) is trying to hold family and church together, knowing there can be no easy parachute to a continuing life.
Sister Margaret explains her decision to leave her husband as precipitated by losing a baby at birth, yet when Ida Jackson (Caitlin MacInnis) arrives at the church with a dying infant, the pastor appears to dismiss the parental cries for help and sends the troubled mother back to her husband, who hasnít been supportive.
Buffeted by all of this, Sister Margaret loses her grip on the church and on her son, as he packs and leaves abruptly to go on the road with a musical group of friends.
Playwright Baldwin had a preacher stepfather and grew up in various congregations in Harlem, giving him a base for the story of ďThe Amen CornerĒ and giving him the material for Davidís decision to leave home, as the playwright did, in a move to Paris, which became his base.
While the script can undoubtedly be tightened, director Kimberley Rampersad does good work in moving the story along and telling its varied parts.
She gets strong support from choir director Jeremiah Sparks.
The Shaw reached well across the U.S. for the cast members of this show and did well at that.
Besides strong performances from Cooper, Broderick and Bridgewater, there are other strong efforts from David Alan Anderson as Brother Boxer and Tat Austrie (the afternoon I saw the show) as Sister Boxer and just a strong ensemble overall.
Get behind the wheel to Niagara-on-the-Lake and see ďThe Amen Corner.Ē
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