The characters in James Baldwin's "The Amen Corner" have prayed themselves into corners. Their amens are sincerely spoken, but they don't do the job. There are people too human to maintain the standards of pisty they profess.
The results for amiable comedy in the case of the lay members of the storefront church Balwin created for his play. But for the preacher protagonist, Margaret Alexander, the results are more serious. The stones she has cast at others come hurtling back at her in the avalanches.
The Rep, Inc. has cast Baldwin's 1953 play with remarkable precision. Every actor looks and sounds like the real thing.
Caren C. Taylor apparently knows all there is to know about the charisma the humorlessness and the repressed passion of Margaret Alexander. But all of the supporting players create equally vivid and perceptive characterizations. They include Tammy Philips as the ambitions Sister Moore, Gloria Davis Hill as the fiercely loyal Odessa, Edward Mays as Margaret's deteriorating exhusband Luke, Arthur Dailey Jr. as her troubled son, Pat Washington as a desperate young mother and Tabia Thomas and Robert Hatcher as Brother and Sister Boxer-two particularly shaky pillars of the congregation.
Director Bobbie Price known a lot about how to put together a show. But perhaps price could learn more about how to take it apart and trim the fat. As presented in the Rep theater at 3719 Georgia Ave. NW, the play needs cutting or another intermission or both.
In fact, if anything's wrong here it's Baldwins inability to end the play. He has created fascinating characters and given them a compelling situation, but his ending is first evasive, then maudlin.
The Rep is trying to revive recent black plays as accurately as possible, however, and on this academic level Baldwin is being well served. Audiences are being well served, too, by the Rep's thoughful and detailed production of Bladwin's deep-felt excursion into hallelujah land.