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AAPACT shines in revival of the work of James Baldwin

caines | 3/7/2013, 4:30 a.m.

Brings back the classic The Amen Corner to Liberty City

If you havent seen AAPACTs stirring salute to one of Black Americas most talented writers, James Baldwin, you are missing a real treat. The Amen Corner, Baldwins play about the two-edged sword of righteousness, is an emotional story about faith, redemption and the impact of poverty on the Black family, placed in the setting of a Harlem-based Black Pentecostal church. The show is currently on stage at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City [6161 NW 22nd Ave.]. AAPACT founder and producing artistic director Teddy Harrell, Jr., produced and directed the play. Baldwins words are timeless and are remarkable, rich and culturally entertaining, Harrell said. He provides us with a view of what went on in the Black Pente-costal church in the 1960s with much of the play based on his own life. We thought that during Black History Month there was no better playwright to showcase than him. But how do you make a play thats been around so long and staged so many times new again? For whites who are unfamiliar with the Black church, this is a real eye opener, he said. But when Blacks see this work, they will inevitably see themselves or someone they know in one or more of the characters. There are scenes that will make you laugh but others that will anger you, make you cry or expose the ugly, hypocritical side of church life.

More about Baldwin and the actors

The Amen Corner was Baldwins first attempt at theater and was first published in 1954. Scores of now famous Black actors have cut their teeth on the leading roles of this play. Critics note that the passionate cadences of the Black church are key components of his writing. But while he provided stunning descriptions of racism in America, he was savagely criticized by his own community for being an openly-gay Black man in the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. According to Harrell, 99 percent of the actors in the play are from South Florida showing that we have a lot of homegrown talent. Two of the actors bring performances that are as good as any weve seen. Brandiss Seward [Sister Margaret] takes the challenging lead role of the church pastor and makes it her own. She fights to hold on to her church and her son who has strayed from the path of God, while at the same time she must confront her long-estranged husband who comes home to die. Seward is as good as it gets in this role. The other standout is Carolyn Johnson who plays the church gossip, Sister Moore. She is funny, expressive and so real that with her first words on stage, youll be sure to say, Wow, I know her. The tension that is maintained between Seward and Johnson is pure magic. Harrell should be proud of the chemistry that he has brought to the stage. Other actors of note include: Janet Mason, Andre Gainey, Regina and Lamar Hodges and Miami Northwestern graduate Jeffrey Cason, Jr., who plays the role of David [Baldwins self in the production]. We see a bright future ahead for Cason. In Baldwins day, reading was the way we were informed and how we got the news, Harrell said. He was one of our heroes. Today singers, rappers and entertainers dominate the world. Rappers are the Alice Walkers, Langston Hughes and Baldwins for todays youth. But theres always room for a genius like James Baldwin. For info call 305-456-0287 or go to www.aapact.com. The play runs through March 17th. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com