Stage Actors Ensemble, at Bryn Mawr Theatre.
James Baldwin's play may be read as Sophoclean tragedy, in which the protagonist is punished for excessive pride, or as a woman's reassessment of the moral path her life has taken. It may be seen as a contemplation on whether one's first religious duty is to God or to one's family; it may answer that question in a straightforward sermon. It can even be construed as a satire on the hypocrisy permeating church politics. But however one interprets storefront preacher Sister Margaret's fall from a faith that alienates her from humanity, the conclusion is always the same: that we must love one another if we are to love God.
This Stage Actors Ensemble production of The Amen Corner, directed by Stephan Benet Turner, draws on all these interpretations, stressing the universality of Baldwin's ageless drama, first produced in 1968. Ruby Steele's Sister Margaret, beset by factions within her congregation and struggling to reconcile with her estranged husband and restless adolescent son, displays a fiery righteousness in the beginning that makes her later abasement all the more poignant. Sister Margaret has a formidable ally in Jacqui Graves-Thomas's stolid Sister Odessa, but even more formidable opponents in Shirley Ann Whitmore's Sister Moore and Kenneth Johnson and Nina Turner's Brother and Sister Boxer, who constitute as slippery a cabal as any in the secular world.
The new Bryn Mawr Theatre requires some adjusting, since it's still in renovation, but this new partnership represents a welcome addition to south-side theater.