Saturday, September 16, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

Wedding Band is an outstanding play by Alice Childress that receives a fabulous production at the Stratford Festival. The play whose full title is Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White was first produced in 1966 and the Stratford Festival deserves a salute for its choice and a standing standing ovation for the quality of the production.

As the title indicates the play is about a love story between a white man and a black woman in South Carolina in 1918 during World War I. Julia (Antonette Rudder) and Herman (Cyrus Lane) are deeply in love. They come from different sides of the tracks and the colour barrier but they have much in common including a deep love that has lasted 10 years. They want to get married but the miscegenation laws of South Carolina do not allow it.

Childress emphasizes the depth of their commitment by portraying Herman as a rebel and perhaps a misfit. He comes from a well-off (and savagely racist) family that had great dreams for its only son. Instead, he became a baker and borrowed money from his mother to purchase a bakery. That is where he met Julia, a customer of the bakery, and they are secretly husband and wife in all but the eye of the law. Lane gives a superb performance as a man of strength and commitment amid opposing forces in his life.

Herman gives her a wedding band on a string and brings a wedding cake to her house to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

From left: Ijeoma Emesowum, Liza Huget, Joella Crichton 
and Antonette Rudder with members of the company in Wedding Band. 
Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou

Julia has moved into the backyard of a house in a black enclave in order to escape notice and recrimination. The enclave consists of three houses and its residents are the social milieu of the play that Childress presents and director Same White carefully and beautifully recreates. They are the downtrodden of America with religious faith, hopes and distrust, even hatred of the whites who had them as slaves within recent memory.

Antonette Ruddy gives an unforgettable performance as a strong woman in love and as the victim of hideous racism. The climax of the play is the confrontation between Julia and Herman’s mother (Lucy Peacock) and his sister Annabelle (Maev Beaty). Julia displays courage, dignity and strength in her position as a woman in love. Lucy Peacock, as the mother, gives a powerful performance as she seethes with hatred and contempt. She would rather see her son dead than involved with a black woman. The apogee comes when the mother asks Julia “who are you” and she replies, “your daughter-in-law, bitch.”

Maev Beaty plays Annabelle the old maid sister, as she would have been called then, of Herman  because she had to stay and look after her mother and did not marry. Anabelle is just as racist as her mother but she has grains of decency and understanding. Beaty strikes that balance marvelously.

Julia’s neighbours Matte (Ijeoma Emesowum), and Lula (Joella Crichton) and her son Nelson (Micah Woods) with the owner of the house Fanny (Liza Huget) form a neighborhood with some religious fervour, social cohesion and dislike and mistrust of whites.

Antonette Rudder as Julia Augustine and Cyrus Lane as 
Herman in Wedding Band. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by Bre'Ann White.

The set by Richard H. Morris Jr. consists of a view of a well-appointed bedroom that forms the central image of the play and is a symbol of the love of Julia and Herman. There are doors on each side of the bedroom leading into the house of Matte and Lula. The rest of the large playing area has a table and a few chairs forming the backyard or the common area of the neighbours. Superb work by Morris.

The costumes by Sarah Uwadiae represent clothes worn around World War I in the American south and they are appropriate.

We get a terrifically acted production directed by Sam White. She uses most of the playing area of the Tom Patterson Theatre efficiently and intelligently. The characters are spaced on the stage or placed together as necessary in proper juxtaposition. The scenes in Julia’s bedroom are sensitively directed and the whole production is a terrific example of good directing.

The end of the play has a masterly scene with Julia dressed in white raising her hands towards heaven as a bright light is beamed on her. It is apotheosis. Go see the production for more details.
Wedding Band by Alice Childress continues until October 1, 2023, at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Thursday, September 14, 2023


Reviewed James Karas 

Marie Beath Badian’s The Waltz tells us about the next generation of the two nurses that came to Saskatchewan from the Philippines in the 1960s. You may have met them five years ago at The Factory Theatre in Prairie Nurse, a play by the same author, but it does not matter if you did not. The new play takes place in 1993 in rural Saskatchewan and it is a charming comedy-romance involving two young Filipinos who meet accidentally and find out that they have a lot in common.

Romeo Alavarez (Anthony Perpuse) is a self-assured young man on his way from Toronto to British Columbia. He is the son of one of the nurses of Prairie Nurse and promised his mother to stop over in Saskatchewan and visit one of her coworkers from many years ago. Carrying his possessions and a large boombox he stops by what looks like the outline of a cottage. Instead of the man he expected, he meets a young woman who holds a loaded crossbow menacingly and is ready to shoot him.

Romeo explains very quickly who he is, what his destination is and the reason for his stopover in Saskatchewan and who he is looking for. She does not shoot him but neither is she convinced of his bona fides. Turns out that the young woman, Bea (Ericka Leobrera) is also of Filipino origins and the man that Romeo is looking for is a good friend of her family. We now have some common ground if not exactly trust.

The two actors  engage in lively conversation, sometimes probing, sometimes contentious and we gain insights into their background. Bea has had a rough time at school and goes to the cottage represented by the beams on the set for quiet contemplation and an escape from the racism she encounters in the city.

Anthony Perpuse and Ericka Leobrera. Photo: Dahlia Katz
Romeo comes from a dysfunctional family where his parents fought a great deal and he is going to the University of British Columbia to escape his life in Toronto. The person he was to visit in Saskatchewan is a friend of his mother’s friend from the past.

The play is not about dysfunctional families but about two people who discover that they have a lot in common and are proud of their ethnic background. That sets the stage for reconciliation and a dive into something more serious emotionally. The path is laid out by Romeo telling Bea that he taught dancing in Toronto and he tentatively teaches her a few steps. Now we learn what the title is about and I will not give you more details.

The Waltz is a boy-meets-girl play with a Filipino background and flavour involving perhaps tangentially the experience of different ethnic groups in Canada. Author Badian is gentle even if the dialogue between the two young people gets acerbic at times. Without it the play would not keep our interest for ninety minutes. Badian does not descend into sentimentality and the acerbity of the exchanges diminishes and we enter the “courtship” phase if we can call it that.

Ericka Leobrera and Anthony Perpuse do superb work in their roles and director Nina Lee Aquino produces excellent results with what the play offers.

Prairies Nurse had a richer plot and more humour. The Waltz is good as far as it goes but we would have preferred more meat to go with it.  
The Waltz by Maria Beath Badian, directed by Nina Lee Aquino continues until September 17, 2023 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, September 12, 2023



Reviewed by James Karas

We should tip our hat to the Shaw Festival for producing Edith Wharton’s The Shadow of a Doubt, a second-rate play that we may never have another opportunity of seeing. But the production of Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing deserves a standing ovation. It is a remarkable play covering the fate of Ireland in the hands of the English during the rule of the puritans under Olver Cromwell in the 1650’s and beyond. The Irish suffered murder, rape and genocide at the hands of the English conquerors whose ultimate goal was the extermination of the Irish whom they did not consider as human beings.

It is 1652 and the English under Oliver Cromwell have reconquered Ireland. The play focuses on two English families who are well-off landowners in Ireland. We know that they are conquerors and therefore they are tainted. Cromwell wants to punish all Irishmen who resisted his conquest and all Englishmen who fought for King Charles II against the Puritan forces during the civil war. Punishment can mean execution or exile from their lands to the desert-like Connaught, Ireland. 

The two English families are Solomon (David Alan Anderson) and Susaneh (Sharry Flett) Winter, and Robert (Kelly Wong) and Madelaine Preston (Bahareh Yaraghi). Sir Charles Sturman (Tom Rooney) has been sent from England to mete out punishment as stated above. Solomon Winter fought for  King Charles; Robert Preston is married to an Irish woman. Both families are targets for Sturman to be deprived of their land and sent to Connaught. 

 Kelly Wong as Robert Preston and Bahareh Yaraghi as Madeleine Preston in 
The Clearing (Shaw Festival, 2023). Photo by David Cooper.

The Prestons had just had their first child. They are a loving couple with their servant Killaine (Ryann Myers) whom they consider part of their family. The men approach Sturman and attempt to get exempted from the brutal exile that is imminent. But Winter deserves to be hanged because he fought for the king, according to Sturman. Preston is married to a Catholic Irish woman who has gone to mass. They deserve to be punished. Sturman proves to be vicious and merciless and so racist against the Irish that he believes that Irish corpses have been found with tails. The Irish are devils incarnate and do not deserve to live.

Killaine is seized and shipped to the West Indies as a slave, “indentured servant” according to Sturman. The Prestons grow apart and Robert tries to save his skin by denouncing his wife. It is the ultimate betrayal and an act of absolute and unforgiveable cowardice.

The play has a Tory, the name given to Irish freedom fighters. Pierce (J.J. Gerber) despises the English. He loved Madelaine once but he considers her and all the Irish who have relations with the English as poisoned and harbours nothing but hatred for them.


Kelly Wong as Robert Preston and Tom Rooney as Sir Charles Sturman
 in The Clearing (Shaw Festival, 2023). Photo by David Cooper.

This is a gripping drama with riveting performances by an outstanding cast. Rooney as Sturman stands for cool, methodical and relentless evil. He believes that he represents God the good and the others are instruments of Satan. He tries to help Robert after humiliating him and makes him seek contrition for his marrying a Catholic. Robert denounces his wife.

Wong and Yaraghi start as a loving couple who enjoy their newborn son and the joys of youth until he turns betrayer of all that is decent and he rejects her. Outstanding performances. Anderson as Solomon and Sharry Flett as Susanah cannot comprehend the enormity of the evil facing them but they do come to terms with the inevitable.  As Protestants, they are not sent into exile and need only pay a fine. But Killaine, an Irish servant to an Englishman is arrested, driven almost insane and put on a transport ship to her certain death. Myers gives a deeply moving performance as she faces her inevitable fate.

The costumes by Asa Benally suggest Purina garb. Pierce’s costume, I assume, represents what the Tories wore.

Again, give a standing ovation for both the choice of play and the production itself.

The play is performed in the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, a theatre-in-the-round with its attendant difficulties concerning a set. The Clearing has almost none except a table and some chairs. Fair enough but director Carmichael brings a few quirks of her own. Instead of letting the actors get off before the next scene begins, she decides to overlap the exits and entrances which struck me as unnecessary and perhaps even confusing. Aside from that she directs a taut, dramatic and moving performance that leaves you breathless and furious with the genocidal English.

A splendid night at the theatre.
The Clearing  by Helen Edmundson continues until October 2, 2023, at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Friday, September 8, 2023


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Shaw Festival once again has earned high marks for its choice of plays. The Shadow of a Doubt is a play by Edith Wharton that was written in 1901 and never staged. In fact, it was stored with Wharton’s papers and disappeared from sight until 2016 when two academics discovered it. No one jumped for joy and rushed to produce it. The Shaw Festival has and we owe a debt of gratitude to it for letting us see Wharton’s only completed play.

Now for the reality check. The lights go on in the Royal George Theatre and we see a dark, wood panelled room and a woman looking out of a window. We hear a song and the woman stares out the window for a long time. The play finally starts but there is no rush to get on with the plot. The song will return and some heavy-duty cello playing will keep us unamused for what seemed like long stretches.

There is a plot. Kate Derwent (Katherine Gauthier) is married to John Derwent (Andre Morin) who has a daughter, Sylvia, from his marriage to the late Agnes. We are in London in 1901 and we should get the class structure straight. We are in Lord Osterleigh’s house and Agnes was his daughter. Mark them as aristocrats in the top rung of the social ladder. Kate was a nurse, therefore mark her at the bottom of the social ladder. This is critical.

Lord Osterleigh has two issues. First, he cannot get over his daughter’s death even after two years and second, he cannot accept that his ambitions son-in-law John has succumbed to marrying a woman of such low social standing.

 Katherine Gauthier as Kate Derwent  (Shaw Festival, 2023). 
Photo by David Cooper

John and Kate love each other. But a highly distressed Dr Carruthers (Damien Atkins) comes trying to blackmail Kate into giving him money or some of her jewellery. He is a man in despair who knows that Kate gave Agnes chloroform and caused or hastened Agnes’ death. Did she? Did she do it to alleviate pain and suffering when death was inevitable? Was this euthanasia or just plain murder? Keep your seatbelt on.

It will take about a year and a half and numerous side trips to reach the end of the saga. The play has a dozen characters and after Lord Osterleigh’s drawing room, we go the the Derwent’s’ house on the Thames and finally to a small room in a lodging house. The dark, badly lit panelling will remain essentially the same and with some exceptions dark clothing will be worn by almost everybody. The set and the atmosphere are almost oppressive.

Most of the characters are entitled to some amorous pursuits. Michael Man plays Captain Dullaston and with his long hair and ridiculous uniform I have no idea what he is Captain of. Dullaston, Robert Mazaret, (Richard Lam) and Clodagh (Lindsay Wu) are having affairs. John is sent to China on a diplomatic job for a year and he leaves his daughter with his father-in-law Osterleigh. Kate is left to fend for herself and the shadow of a doubt follows her. Did nurse Kate have a nefarious hand in the death of Agnes? Even John has doubts and she is in a a terrible situation of trying to maintain her pride and defending her innocence.

Aside from the songs and the dreary background cello playing, even during dialogues, there are a few other bizarre aspects. Director Peter Hinton-Davis projects the faces of some characters at the back of the stage, at times for a short while at other times for a whole scene. We see the faces of Kate, Osterleigh and the maid Wilkins (Claire Julien) for lengthy periods. Why the maid? No doubt to arouse suspense as if this were an Alfred Hitchcock movie. That like almost everything else in the play, does not work.

Katherine Gauthier as Kate Derwent and Damien Atkins as Dr. Carruthers 
(Shaw Festival, 2023). Photo by David Cooper.

Hinton-Davis lets a creaky play drag interminably and his attempts to create suspense, even interest in the play fail. There is not much he could do about the play but it felt as if he made it worse if that were possible.

The performance that I saw on August 30th had other problems. Lord Osterleigh usually played by Patrick Galligan was performed by Neil Barclay. He is listed in the program as the understudy for the role but he had not learned his lines and walked around with the script in his hand and frequently read from it. Richard Lam, Michael Man and David Adams were replacing the original cast members but they did not need to carry a copy of the script on stage. I mention this for the record and I am not suggesting that the changes had a dramatic effect on the performance.

Katherine Gauthier gave a bravura performance as Kate Derwent. Her Kate had enormous challenges. She was and wanted to succeed as a loving wife, the stepmother of her husband’s daughter, the target of a brutal extortionist and the victim of a class-ridden structure that would not accept her. That is an huge emotional range and she handled it splendidly.

Another limitation was the atrocious English accents produced by virtually the entire cast. English aristocrats speak in a distinct way and it is part of their snobbishness to do so. The actors sounded like what they are: Canadian actors making a feeble attempt at an English accent by dropping the r or trying to slide off it. It did not work.

Thank you Shaw Festival for producing Edith Wharton’s play. We may not get another chance to see it. 


The Shadow of a Doubt by Edith Wharton continues on selected dates until October 15, 2023, at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, September 5, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

When the Stratford Festival announced its 2023 program, the inclusion of Frankenstein Revived among King Lear, Rent and Richard II made no impression at all. Frankenstein has been around for more than two centuries and he never died as a subject for films, plays, TV series and adaptations. There is always room for another revival of one of the best known and most influential books. But what kind of revival are we talking about?

In early August, we got a press release from the Stratford Festival informing us about the upcoming opening of Frankenstein Revived and calling it an “exuberant and passion-filled theatrical movement-based piece [that] brings thrill and terror to the stage through a powerful fusion of theatre and dance.” Sounds good but then comes the punchline: “without any text whatsoever.” Theatre without any text whatsoever is not uncommon. Mime, ballet, signed productions are all done without any text but Frankenstein? Morris Panych is a playwright and director and he works without a text? Put your seat upright, fasten your seatbelt and pay attention.

Frankenstein Revived initially struck me as something between a silent movie or a mime accompanied by some dramatic music by David Coulter. But the movements of the players and the appearance of serious dance routines made it clear that this is no mime. It tells the story of Frankenstein through its author, Mary Shelley (Laura Condlin) and it has a lot of movement by Movement Choreographer Gorling and dances by Dance Choreographer Stephen Cota. It is a stunning production.

Mary Shelley, dressed in a beautiful gown, is on stage most of the time writing or holding a book and we see the play through her eyes as she imagines it and writes it. We see Dr. Vincent Frankenstein (Charlie Gallant), a scientist, doing experiments with electricity, and studying human anatomy and putting body parts together. He is assembling the body of a human with whatever parts that he can get. He gives electrical shocks to the body that he assembles and it comes to life.    

Marcus Nance as The Creature in Frankenstein Revived.
Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

The Creature (that is what it is called in the program but he or it has many other names in the novel from monster to fiend) is ugly, gangly and menacing. No, this is not square-headed Boris Karloff in the old movies or Fred Gwynne of The Munsters. But its appearance is deceiving because the Creature is ignored and mistreated by all. Initially it wears only a loin cloth but later appears fully dressed and at some point, wears a top hat. Dr. Frankenstein and his colleagues celebrate the achievement with champagne but the mistreated creature becomes a murderous menace. It kills a child. Dr. Frankenstein gets married and is on his honeymoon and he leaves his bride in a bedroom. The Creature enters and kills her. The Creature and the story are about the search for love and Panych treats it as such.

A play without any text makes it difficult to comment on individual performances. It is almost like trying to comment on individual dancers of the corps de ballet. But there are standouts. Marcus Nance as the Creature gives an outstanding performance even without words as a being in search of some affection who is violently rebuffed in every attempt. He looks hideous but his need for human contact is moving and becomes the dominant feature of the play. He becomes murderous when he cannot find any.

Charlie Gallant as Doctor Victor Frankenstein, the ambitious and ruthless scientist who wants to create life starts as sympathetic but but turns obsessed with killing his creation at the cost of everything else.

Laura Condlln, Marcus Nance and Charlie Gallant in 
Frankenstein Revived. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

The play has more than twenty roles, most of the players are listed as Element and many taking several parts. Except for the major characters, I could not distinguish most of the rest. For example, Jason Sermonia is listed as playing Element, Sailor, Student, Townsperson, Guest, Soldier and Pallbearer. I did not recognize him in any of those roles. But their names are not important in the choreographed telling of the story.

The shape of the play, from its control by Mary Shelley to the music composition, movement and dance choreography, set design (Ken MacDonald), costume design (Dana Osborne), lighting design (Kimberly Purtell) and sound design (Jake Rodriguez) results in an unexpected theatrical marvel. The major credit must go to Morris Panych, the adapter, for his imaginative sans text creation and the ending that is all his own which I will not disclose.

Coulter’s music was sometimes repetitive, but always dramatic and changed pace as suited the scene. The costumes by Costume Designer Dana Osborne were high Victorian with all black and top hats for the professors. But the projected scenes of the changing moon and the electrical shocks while trying to give life to the corpse were utterly dramatic.

The production gained from being a surprising, fresh and unexpected retelling of the familiar story with sheer theatricality and stunning sets.


Frankenstein Revived by Morris Panych based on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley with music by David Coulter had its world premiere on August 24, 2023, and continues until October 28, 2023, at the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Thursday, August 31, 2023


Reviewed by James Karas

Les Belles-Soeurs is an iconic Canadian play that gives a penetrating and piercingly accurate portrait of Quebec society in the 1960s. The Stratford Festival gives us a superb production of Michel Tremblay’s play which premiered in Montreal in 1968. It is directed by Esther Jun and has a cast of fifteen actors representing working class women.   

Germaine Lauzon (Lucy Peacock) has won one million stamps and they have just been delivered to her home. She is deliriously and deliciously happy dreaming and planning what she will do with her wealth. Her working-class imagination takes flight but it stays in her kitchen and her house. New appliances and furnishings are basically what she dreams of buying.

Germaine invites her sisters Rose Ouimet and Gabrielle Jodoin, her sister-in-law Thérèse Dubuc, and friends and neighbours. Her sister Pierrette Guérin is not invited but she comes anyway. Together with Germaine’s daughter Linda, and friends and neighbours, there are fifteen women in her kitchen to paste the stamps in books.

Members of the company in Les Belles-Soeurs.
Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

The women discuss a huge array of subjects over the course of the play with rancor, candor, humour and pathos. What evolves is a picture of the lives of the women and by extension a portrait of Quebec society of the period.

Tremblay draws the women’s characters succinctly and beautifully. Aside from the individual characteristics of the women we get a  depiction of the social order that they occupy. There are differences among the women but they all seem to be living lives of quiet desperation.

Lucy Peacock gives a powerful performance as Germaine, a woman married to an alcoholic husband with two children who do not listen to her. But having won one million stamps she sees a way out and for some hours she dreams of a better life after acquiring the things that money can bring. Her dream comes crashing around her when her friends want to share in her “happiness” and things do not turn out as she imagined. I will not disclose the end of the play.

Seana McKenna gives a superb performance as Rose Ouimet, a religious widow who is concerned about other-worldly matters.  

Allison Edwards-Crewe plays a flamboyant Pierette who works in a bar and is shunned by the other women. The young Lise (Marissa Orjalo) reveals that she is pregnant, a shocking state at the time. Pierette has the decency to offer to find a doctor to perform an abortion instead of getting a back-alley procedure that seemed to be the only choice. Pierette reveals that shocking news that Angeline frequents the club where she works. The news sends shockwaves among the religious women and they shun the pathetic Angeline.    

Irene Poole plays Therese who arrives with her mother-in-law Olivine (Diana Leblanc) and proceeds to abuse the poor woman who is slumped in a wheelchair and makes unwelcome noises.   Lisette de Courval likes nice clothes and sex but not with her husband. Jealousy is a common underlying characteristic of most of the women and combined with greed it is the catalyst that brings the finale of the play.

From left: Irene Poole, Shannon Taylor, Lucy Peacock, 
Jennifer Villaverde, Seana McKenna and Jane Luk in 
Les Belles-Soeurs. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou

Religion plays an important role in the lives of all of them and they kneel and cross themselves when they hear the rosary on the radio. One method of escaping their reality is to play bingo at the church and there is an extended and hilarious scene of that pastime.

Tremblay provides a number of monologues, choral passages one might say, where the lights are dimmed and a spotlight is shone on a character who speaks about her life directly to the audience. This is a brilliant way of pacing the play which otherwise is a noise fest with the fifteen women speaking cacophonously at times.

The set design by Joanna Yu shows a simple 1960s kitchen with a table and chairs. Michelle Bohn’s costumes represent working class clothes that are suitable for the era and the production.

Les Belles-Soeurs is a richly-layered play that appears very simple. Director Esther Jun handles a talented cast judiciously and expertly through the crowded dialogues and movements as well as the monologues.  It is a superb production of a theatrical landmark.


Les Belle-Soeurs by Michel Tremblay opened on August 25 and continues until October 28, 2023, at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, August 29, 2023


Reviewed by James Karas

The Amen Corner is a play by James Baldwin (1924-1987) that he wrote in 1954 and has been largely ignored. Baldwin was a prolific novelist, essayist and short story writer but he made only two forays into drama. The production of The Amen Corner by the Shaw Festival may be the first time the play is seen in Canada. A tip of the hat to the Shaw for producing the play.

The play is about a Black evangelical congregation in Harlem in the 1950’s. It deals with religious fervour, fanaticism, ambition, jealousy, hypocrisy and love. It focuses on Pastor Margaret Alexander (Janelle Cooper), her family and the relationship with the congregation. The Pastor lives in an unprepossessing tenement with her apartment on the main floor and the church above. Set Designer Anahita Dehbonehie shows us both with stairs providing easy access from each unit to the other.

The congregation consists of ladies dressed in their Sunday outfits with small hats, nice dresses and petticoats. The men wear suits and all are dressed to go to church, to use an outdated phrase. The members of the congregation refer to each other as Brother and Sister. This is a deeply religious group.

We hear many hymns and of course Pastor Alexander’s sermons. She is deeply religious and strict in her demands for obedience and observance of the laws of God. No drinking is de rigueur but even driving a truck for a liquor company is a sin. You are helping people go to hell by delivering the substance of sin. Reading the funny papers is sinful because your mind is not on the Lord and Satan may cause you to fall.

Janelle Cooper as Margaret Alexander, Jenni Burke as Sister Boxer and David Alan
Anderson as Brother Boxer with the cast of The Amen Corner (Shaw Festival, 2023).
Photo by David Cooper.

Ida Jackson (Caitlyn McInnis) comes to church with a sick baby and asks the Pastor to pray and save her child. Margaret advises her to leave her husband (the way she did, it turns out). The child dies and Ida returns to Pastor Margaret asking why the Lord took her child. Margaret can offer little more than platitudes and tell her to pray.

But Pastor Margaret has a couple of secrets. She was married to Luke (Allan Louis), an alcoholic jazz musician and David (Andrew Broderick) her teenage son is beginning to stray away from the strictures of her preaching. He smokes and goes out with his friends. The congregation consists of poor Black people and they have the characteristics found in many of us: jealousy, envy, ambition. Pastor Margaret goes to Philadelphia to visit a sick colleague. That costs money. Unlike her parishioners, she has a Frigidaire refrigerator! Her husband Luke returns home, a sick and dying man. Did he abandon her or did she throw him out for the sake of keeping her position?

Sister Moore (Monica Parks) tells us that she is humble and brags that no man has laid a finger on her. When the time comes, she will tell Jesus that she lived and died a virgin.

Ardent faith and reality clash. Brother Boxer is as zealous as anyone, but he wants the job of delivering liquor. The Pastor objects. Her sick husband returns and we find out the truth about the breakup of her marriage. And how did she afford that fancy fridge as a pastor of a poor congregation?

Margaret is a human being like the rest of them. She wants the appearance of her self-righteousness to raise her above her congregation. It does not because it cannot do that anymore than the prayers, the hymns and the protestations of faith can raise the rest of the people above their common humanity or save Ida’s child.

Alana Bridgewater as Odessa and Janelle Cooper as Margaret Alexander
 with the cast of The Amen Corner (Shaw Festival, 2023). Photo by David Cooper.

The fine cast brings forth the religious and human conflicts of the play with sensitivity and superb acting. Anderson as Brother Boxer is both selfish and self-righteous but also human. Margaret Bridgwater as Margaret’s sister Odessa is rational but in a sea of fervent believers there is not much she can do. Allan Louis is a moving Luke who followed a career as a musician and no doubt a sinner but he never stopped loving his family and he did not abandon them. He was thrown out.

Parks as sister Moore is conniving and hypocritical the way many people are and manages to get ahead with their hypocrisy intact.

Director Kimberley Rampersad does superb work with a play that depends on hymns and has some creaky structural problems. Luke’s deaths scene is overdone and not every scene is convincing. Nevertheless, it is a great opportunity to see a play by a great American writer who did not follow his ambition to become a playwright. Perhaps he realized it was simply not his forte.


The Amen Corner by James Baldwin continues until October 8, 2023, at the Festival Theatre as part of The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press