Review: The Amen Corner

The Amen Corner; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; $10-$15. Celebration Arts Theatre, 4469 D Street; (916) 455-2787; Through July 16.
Rated 4.0

There are a lot of “amens” in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, along with loads of “hallelujahs,” and “praise the Lords,” all delivered by the arm-swaying, fan-waving, feet-stomping, Jesus-thanking, fancy-hat-wearing, gospel-singing congregation of a small 1950s Harlem street-corner church.

This is the second time that Celebration Arts has staged Baldwin’s first play, which debuted in 1954, and director James Wheatley is wisely bringing back some of his original 2007 cast members. The actors include leads Elise Reese as Pastor Alexander, Preston Collier as her long-absent husband Luke and the incomparably entertaining Elaine Douglas as the all-in-your-face self-sanctifying Sister Moore. New cast members also step up to engulf the audience with their gospel singing, testifying and storytelling skills.

The story unfolds amid the corner church services and the small apartment of Pastor Alexander, whose musician husband Luke suddenly shows up to rock her carefully constructed world and that of their son David (Tarig Elsiddig). His sudden appearance coincides with scissions in the congregation and David’s conflict between playing church piano and sneaking out to jam at local jazz joints.

Though the storyline is intriguing, the lengthy play suffers from a need to compress and edit. However, the talents of the gospel-singing cast rolls the plodding plot along, eliciting audible audience responses including quiet humming of familiar hymns and a few tsk, tsking responses to characters’ bad behavior.