The Amen Corner opened magnificently in March 2020; then days later, COVID-19 coldly shut the play and much of America down. Now, Shakespeare Theater is reopening the James Baldwin epic for a limited two week run September 14 – September 26 as it and other theaters across the greater DC area have united to require that their audiences provide proof of vaccination in order to attend all live performances at indoor venues. The requirement is for their audiences, artists, staff, and volunteers.
We first printed this review in the February 27 – March 11, 2020 issue.
With such a magnificent stage visual, by scenic designer Daniel Soule, the performance of James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at The Shakespeare Theater in Washington opened with a very high hurdle to jump, and it did. While each and every performer was outstanding, the dramatic performance by Alabama State University graduate Antonio Michael Woodward as David was unbelievably credible.
The two and one-half hour play centers around David, a young man coming of age and growing up in a holiness church started and run by his mother, Reverend Margaret. I was reminded that many of the characters were shadows of real people as one of the characters supported his “fact” with, “It’s in the Book.” Relating the play to his own experiences, theater goer Donovan Anderson said, “I did know a woman from high school and college like that. She never wore pants because she stated that it is in the Bible that women should not wear pants, no matter how cold it was.”
It was a dramatic, not comedic performance, so the audience’s laughter made me wonder if Baldwin was mocking or exposing the people with whom he grew up. Similar to characters in the play, the playwright was a revivalist minister for the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly during his high school years. His father’s name was David. And, like the character David, Baldwin left his Harlem home and church when he became 18.