REVIEW: ‘The Amen Corner’ at Cincy Shakes takes us to Church

By Katrina “Kat” Reynolds

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is singing in the new (calendar) year with The Amen Corner by James Baldwin. Under the reliable guidance of company Director of Education Candice Handy, the show tells a story of a small church in Harlem and how they are faced with some unexpected tests to their faith. (Per usual, no spoilers – this one has been to seen.)

The Production Crew for The Amen Corner

Once again, Cincy Shakes gives us a top-notch theatrical experience. Visionary Scenic Design by Samantha Reno (truly, when is she going to be sainted?) and optimal Costume Design by Kendra Johnson. Most of the highly realistic wigs are designed by Candace Leyland. With engaging Sound Design by Kevin Semancik, the audience is both witness to and part of the church congregation we see before us. Ms. Handy’s vision and execution of this beautiful yet heartbreaking tale is utterly superb. She masters a seamless combination of her own talents with a shower of others’ and the results are soul-stirring. 

Music Direction/Composition by Yemi Oyediran punctuates the plethora of emotions in Mr. Baldwin’s masterpiece of a script. The beautiful and powerful vocals from the cast at the tutelage of Mr. Oyediran is worth the price of admission alone. 

The Performing Artists

This cast: my goodness, what a strong, skilled group of artists all in one place! I will not be able to list them all by name, but be assured I could easily write at length on each of them. Bravx to you all!

In an absolute tour-de-force performance, we have Burgess Byrd in the role of Sister Moore, a long-standing member and Elder of the church. Mx. Byrd’s performance of a sometimes subtle and sometimes roaring character arc is nothing short of perfection. She masters being faithful and devout and shows us how easily those admirable traits can be less-than-admirable.

Taking the helm of the small-yet-mighty Harlem church’s Pastor Margaret Anderson is Torie Wiggins. Ms. Wiggins takes on the tall order of playing a strong but flawed leader who often forgets she is also human. The emotional journey of Pastor Margaret (and the audience alike) is fraught with ups and downs and everything in between. The performer who serves as her raconteur is more than up to the task. Amen, Sister Wiggins – praise the Lord.

There are two other performances of note. One comes from the incomparable ranney as Luke, Pastor Margaret’s estranged husband. Mr. ranney excels at portraying Luke who owns his shortcomings and is probably the most relatable to those of us mortals. The second, in her CSC debut season (yay!), Jasimine Bouldin as Ida Jackson. Ms. Bouldin gifts the audience with an impeccable turn as a young mother who is in need of some hope. Her role is smaller, but no less impactful for it and that is what makes an excellent actor.

About the Playwright

In the simplest terms, James Baldwin was a writer and an activist. His themes of race, sexuality, and class still need a voice and a platform to this day. The most beautiful thing about Mr. Baldwin’s characters is that no one is entirely saintly or entirely devilish. They are human and do what they must to endure, something to which every one of us can relate – and this is why stories like his must continue to be told.

The Sweet and Lowdown

In the month of rebirth and resolutions, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s The Amen Corner is an apropos theatrical presentation.  As the summary of this play so eloquently states, the show “proves it is faith and the love we have for our community that sees us through.” With an excellent group of artisans, we are reminded that community is often what saves our souls.

Catch The Amen Corner by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company now through February 11. Run time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions. Purchase tickets by visiting the CSC website