The Amen Corner

Rated 4.0

In her small Harlem storefront church, Pastor Margaret is the stalwart savior of souls—a sanctifying, sanctimonious Sister of God. Her congregation are gospel-singing, Lord-praising, Amen-saying, arms-swaying, fan-waving, tithe-paying women and men of the church, decked out in their Sunday best.

Celebration Arts’ production of James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner is a tribute to Baldwin and these cobbled-together churches, as well as a showcase for some talented local gospel singers. It’s an interesting and welcomed choice for the holiday season—overlaying wonderful music with a thought-provoking, not picture-perfect-ending drama.

Taking his experience as a son of a preacher man, in Amen Corner Baldwin pays homage to these small congregations while revealing their hidden hypocrisies. Based on Baldwin’s own struggles to find self, the story centers on Pastor Margaret and her son David—who is torn between playing piano for his Mama’s church, and jamming in nearby jazz joints. And when Pastor Margaret’s past life comes a calling, a crisis of faith ensues for everyone.

Director James Wheatley wisely plays up the gospel singing, which is the strength of both this production and the play. Unfortunately, both the play and the production have pacing problems, most evident as the story unfolds and loses steam. But both are saved by strong performances, notably by Elise Reese as Margaret and the very entertaining Elaine Lenae Douglas as Sister Moore, backed up by a warm, welcoming Gospel-singing cast.