E. Roger Mitchell as Brother, Crystal Fox as Missionary and Eugene Lee as Elder in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of every tongue confess November 9, 2010-January 2, 2011.Photo by Joan Marcus.
Arena Stage still has its “new car smell” and gives the impression from the outside that it’s no longer the intimate, community theater I grew up visiting as a Southwest native.
The $135 million makeover of the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, complete with mahogany wall treatments, hip-friendly seats, and three distinct theater spaces under one roof, proved however, to be the perfect venue to showcase Marcus Gardley’s, every tongue confess.
The premiere of the play, staged in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, provides a great venue for audiences. The intimate atmosphere coupled with the cocoon-like design makes guests feel as if they’re on stage with the actors.
Autumn Hurlbert as Benny Pride and Phylicia Rashad as Mother Sister in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of every tongue confess November 9, 2010-January 2, 2011. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The production, every tongue confess brings actress Phylicia Rashad
(formerly of The Cosby Show) back to the stage as the spiritually gifted Mother Sister, a decade after her performance in Charles Randolph-Wright’s Blue.
In the backwater town of Boligee, Ala., the temperatures are steadily rising. It’s the summer of 1996 and townsfolk are being driven to distraction and are conjuring spirits of the past to walk the earth. At the same time, African-American churches throughout the South are being burned to the ground. Woven within the tapestry of the scorching heat and the blazing fires are stories that lie trapped within the bosoms of the people who live there.
Gardley blends what some label “ancient realism” with Biblical allegory and the news headlines surrounding the real case, to uncover the hidden truth behind the fires and denizens of Boligee. Gardley succeeds at introducing Southern realism, with all of its rumor and fantasy intact, to audiences. The cycles of the moon and mysticism operate in day-to-day life, including the church. Strangers and
ghosts appear and disappear and become as worrisome to Boligee as the real people.
The setting is changed quickly by the addition and removal of clothing
and props in fluid motions that maintain the play’s fast pace. Some actors portray dual roles and shift seamlessly from one character to the next without hesitation or flaw.
Stellar performances were given by the entire ensemble, including Jason Dirden (Shadrack), Jim Ireland (Stoker Pride), Leslie Kritzer (Bernadette), Eugene Lee (Elder/ Jeremiah), E. Roger Mitchell (Brother/Bobby), and Jonathan Earl Peck (Blacksmith).
While I most looked forward to Rashad teaming up with Crystal Fox (In the Heat of the Night) again after their dynamic performance in The Old Settler, most of Rashad’s fractious interactions occurred with Autumn Hurlbert (Benny Pride).
Nonetheless, the acting is superb and the Southern gospel performances – strictly acapella – create a “must see” show that is enhanced by a totally new space.
“The birth of a new theater space is cause for major celebration,” said Arena Stage’s Artistic Director Molly Smith. “The inauguration of the Kogod Cradle, as a theater created for new works, needed to be a premiere. Marcus Gardley is a young writer who is a theater poet, who writes plays that are epic and intimate at the same time. The first project that is created in a new theater will always be remembered, and every tongue confess is that play.”
The play, every tongue confess runs through January 2 at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in Southwest.
for ticket information.