The reviews are in for Penumbra Theatre’s ‘The Amen Corner’

Penumbra Theatre presents “The Amen Corner” at the Guthrie Theater through June 17. Here’s the plot summary:

The fiery and unfaltering Sister Margaret, leader of a devoted congregation in Harlem, has dedicated years of her life to serving the Lord. But when her son unexpectedly reunites her with her estranged husband, a jazz musician, she risks losing her standing in the church and the son she has tried to keep on a religious path.

While the opening weekend was marred with a few technical issues (actors adjusting to microphones, among other things), the majority of reviewers found this show meaty and rewarding, worthy of the three-hour investment it demands. Read on for excerpts of reviews, or click on the links to read them in full.

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The cast of Penumbra Theatre Company’s production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Rohan Preston at the Star Tribune:

“Amen Corner,” James Baldwin’s first play, is impressive for its meatiness. It packs many issues into three hours — conflicts between the spiritual and the carnal, pastor and congregation, parent and child. The drama is suffused with themes that Baldwin, a disgruntled onetime preacher, dealt with in other writings, including the hypocrisy and holier-than-thou mores in so many churches.

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Greta Oglesby (right) as Sister Margaret Alexander and Crystal Fox as Odessa in Penumbra Theatre Company’s production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From John Olive at HowWasTheShow.com:

The performances in The Amen Corner are outstanding. Greta Oglesby plays Sister Margaret beautifully, fearful of what Luke represents, yet drawn, inevitably, to his deathbed. She never wavers from her religious convictions, even as old passions rise up unbidden. She is able to give expression to gorgeous defiance in the face of her congregation’s (egregiously unfair) accusations. Oglesby is also a terrific vocalist and she does some highly tasty singing – ditto the wonderful Dennis W. Spears. As Luke, Hannibal Lokumbe amazes, as he pants and weaves through his scenes – and plays them with can’t-look-away fervency. Plus, as a bonus, Lokumbe is a gifted trumpeter. What more could you ask for? As Odessa, Crystal Fox does quietly lovely work, as does Faye M. Price. Thomasina Petrus is a hoot.

And Eric Berryman as David. Wow. Quiet, understated, poised, sweet, drawn to his father’s musicianship, in love with his mother’s safe religiosity. Quietly defiant: “I have things I have to do,” he says, making you feel the pressing burden of his future. Berryman dominates every scene he’s in. Bravo.

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Eric Berryman as David Alexander and Greta Oglesby as Sister Margaret Alexander in Penumbra Theatre Company’s production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Dominic Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

Things pick up steam after intermission, when both the emotion and the rhetoric swell to poetic heights. But Baldwin, the playwright, seems unwilling to let these characters go. As the play moves toward an anti-climactic climax and a swift, shallow denouncement, Bellamy, the director, can’t get the script to keep its pace.

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Greta Oglesby as Sister Margaret Alexander and Hannibal Lokumbe as Luke in Penumbra Theatre Company’s production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Ellen Burkhardt at Minnesota Monthly:

The scenes with lengthy bouts of dialogue tend to drag, likely due to Baldwin’s unfamiliarity with writing for the stage and the actors’ unfamiliarity with the expansiveness of the Wurtele versus their more intimate Penumbra stage. Balancing the lulls, however, is the incredible music, courtesy of the actors (many of them trained vocalists) as well as the members of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, whose powerful voices and harmonies revitalize the action.

As is the case with any performance, these small lows will likely disappear by the end of the play’s run, leaving only the powerful piece of art that is The Amen Corner–a work that, although written 50 years ago, still resonates with today’s society.

Have you seen “The Amen Corner?” If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.

  • http://Http://michaelvenske.com Michael Venske

    The music was beautiful, the story engaging, but Crystal Fox’s performance resonated deep within my heart — truly beautiful and inspiring.