THEATER: ‘Amen Corner’ twice as long as it needed to be

  “The Amen Corner,” a musical drama based on James Baldwin’s 1965 Broadway play, ran nearly three hours in performance this weekend. That’s too bad. Had it run about 90 minutes, the Ira Aldridge Theatre Company’s production might have been a classic.
  Baldwin’s script is a tale about Harlem pastor Margaret Anderson (Rochelle Hooks) who doesn’t discover what loving the Lord means — or, in broader terms, the definition of goodness — until she loses her husband, son and congregation. It’s a touching treatise about how easy it is to get caught up in the wrong things. The writing is full of wit and small moments that leave lasting impressions.
  There was a 1983 Broadway musical version, but this isn’t it. Director Walter Mason has instead thrown in some random spiritual numbers that make this more of a play with music than a musical.
  At first, I thought I was in for something special. The 20-member cast was rich in dancing and singing talent. And, most surprising of all, they could really act. Hooks carried authority as the pastor. She convinced you she could dominate those around her with her presence alone. Alex Thomas showed comedic power as the boyishly mischievous middle-aged Brother Boxer. Lanyard Williams as Margaret’s estranged husband and Keith Dillard as their son shared a fine ability to project intimate communications. They came across as two men with a lifetime of secrets they needed to share. You could feel their bond. And Donna M. Clark as a gossiping church elder made gossiping as evil as it was funny.
  Dayo Adelaja’s set represented three playing areas (the church and the pastor’s kitchen and bedroom) with simplicity and skill.
  Mason had all the ingredients of a first-rate entertainment. But his total lack of appropriate pacing made the play fall flat. Mason had Hooks do a lot of wailing and screaming — oh, how the woman suffered! — and after a while, you wanted very badly for her to suffer alone. Hooks is one talented lady, but modulation and variety are not her strong suit. If you had seen only five minutes of any of the major performances, you likely would have thought highly of the actors. But there was so much repetition of the same note of angst that the show sadly outwore its welcome.
  Isn’t it amazing how often less is more?

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