by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Stage Aurora gives Jacksonville audiences a rare opportunity to see an early work by the great American writer James Baldwin. “The Amen Corner” will be on stage at 5188 Norwood Ave inside Gateway Town Center, until December 13. For tickets call (904) 756-7372 or visit ticketleap.com.
Baldwin wrote only one other play, “Blues for Mr. Charlie,” and we cannot recall either being done locally. Of course, his many novels are available at the library and can be ordered at any bookstore. Baldwin is on several lists of the 100 Greatest African Americans. Baldwin also holds the distinction of being one of the few playwrights/novelists to have his image on a United States Postage Stamp (2005).
“The Amen Corner” is considered a somewhat autobiographical look at life in Harlem in the 1950s, with a number of parallels to Baldwin’s life. It is about Sister Margaret, a church Pastor, her family and her congregation. Sister Margaret is a demanding role and is played convincingly and charismatically by ANGIE PICKENS. (This role has been double cast and you may be seeing STACI ANDERSON when you go to a show).
Sister Margaret is totally devoted to her religion and very strict about what she believes is God’s word. She is critical of members who do not live up to the standards of her church. Brother Boxer (JOIAKIN FOSTER) is a sinner for making a living by driving a truck to deliver liquor to stores. His wife Sister Boxer (ALVENIA DERBAN) is also a sinner; she works as a maid who serves drinks to her wealthy employers. (Alternately, CHARLES WALKER and AMBER HOLLAND are double-cast in these roles).
Sister Margaret is concerned about her grown son, David (DIAMOND PAULK), who plays piano for the church, but has been backsliding, missing church, and associating with Sister Margaret’s estranged jazz musician husband Luke (DAVID EMANUEL).
Things come to a head in Act Three, when the congregation considers removing Sister Margaret as the head of the church after they discover she doesn’t always practice what she preaches. Margaret had told church members that her husband left her many years ago, actually, she left him because of his drinking. (Apparently standing by your man for better or worse was preached in her church). Other complaints included her lack of control over the actions of her son, and allowing her husband who appears to be dying of a respiratory illness to live in her home, but then not taking care of him. And she may be stealing funds from the church.
The show runs a little over two hours with no intermission. It starts off with a very rousing church service with a inspiring sermon by Sister Margaret and songs by Margaret’s sister Odessa (RUTH CHARLENE DAVIS) and Sister Moore (KATHY SURCEY), who in fact covets Margaret’s position and provides much of the humor in the play.
Others in the cast are mainly on stage during the church scenes, and include JADE HALLS, FELICIA EWING, SHONDA BROWN, AMANDA VAN ALLEN, DANTE BUCKSON, TERESA SMITH and KACHE MUMFORD. This supporting cast was filled with excellent gospel singers, and gave the church scenes a feeling of authenticity.
The large set covered three sections of the Aurora Stage, with Margaret’s home kitchen on the far left, the church with its stained glass windows, piano, and folding chairs in the center, and on the far right, a bedroom in the home used by her ailing husband.
“The Amen Corner” was produced by DARRYL REUBEN HALL, Founder and Executive Director of Stage Aurora. Mr. Hall has enriched the local theatre scene for over ten years with his commitment to bringing the staging of the rich African-American experience to North Florida theatre patrons. Stage Aurora in October 2013 participated in the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, and Mr. Hall’s original script, “Frat House,” won a festival award for “Favorite Script Playwright.”
“The Amen Corner” was very capably directed by DEE QUARANTA, with TERESA SMITH, as Stage Manager, ALVIN MITCHELL on lights, and EDWARD HALL and THOMAS LAW as the Set Designers.
We enjoyed our first ever James Baldwin play and are looking forward to two upcoming Stage Aurora productions, with DREAMGIRLS on January 31, 2014, followed by A RAISIN IN THE SUN in March.
THE AMEN CORNER
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM