Steal Away

Rated 2.0 “Steal Away” is the title of a famous spiritual, associated with the underground railroad and the flight of slaves to freedom in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War. It’s a moody tune, with deliberately ambiguous lyrics like “the trumpet sounds within-a-my soul / I ain’t got long to stay here,” which could refer to being called home by the Lord or being summoned by a “conductor” like Harriet Tubman.The new show at Celebration Arts is also titled Steal Away, but it’s something else entirely. Set in Chicago circa the 1930s, the play is about several black ladies of the church who’ve pooled money for a local college scholarship benefiting young black women by baking and selling pies.

With the Depression, the pies aren’t selling. So, the women decide to raise their money through a radically different method: by robbing a bank.

The show is slow leaving the gate, with the opening dialogue between actresses Shelandra Goss and Josephine Blick (as daughter and mother) feeling out-of-kilter. They’re both good but not on the same wavelength. Subsequent scenes establish personalities and rivalries in the group, somewhat deliberately.

Things get funny after intermission as these devout women dress like gun-toting gangsters, set out in the dead of night and bag their prize (barely) like matriarchal Robin Hoods. Director Jill McMahon gets laughter flowing smoothly here, but the end is left dangling.

You could say Steal Away starts out “fair” and edges into “good” during most of the second act, but that’s too long for one of our Willie ratings.