THE AMEN CORNER - Through November 26 at the Rep Inc., 3710 Georgia Avenue NW. 291-3903
Morality is hot stuff these days. Politicans and clergy are getting caught breaking legal or ethical codes. Such a case is the theme in James Baldwin's satirical look at a 1950s Harlem storefront congregation, "The Amen Corner," now playing at the Rep, Inc.
A pious minister, Sister Margaret knows her mission: to save souls and conquer sin. Caren C. Taylor is well cast in the role.Her thundering sermons, delivered in a booming and authoritative manner, succed in making all those around her feel they can never live up to her unrealistic expectations.
Piety on Sunday will not save Brother Boxer as long as he drives a truck for a liquor company during the rest of the week. A young woman will lose her sick baby unless she confesses her sins to Sister Margaret and lets the Lord in her soul. Even Sister Margaret's musically gifted son, David (sensitively played by Arthur Dailey Jr.), whom she is grooming to join her in the pulpit, can't resist the call of the devil's music-jazz.
But Sister Margaret herself is not exactly pure. The church elders discover she has been lying when her husband Luke, who supposedly deserted mother and son 10 years ago, unexpectedly arrives, forcing her to confess that it was she who walked out on her wastrel spouse.
Brother and Sister Boxer (Robert Hatcher and Tabia Thomas) and the sanctimonious Sister Moore (Tammy Phillips) are wickedly wonderful as they pounce on this revelation of their spiritual leader's flaw.
"Sister Margaret acts like she's always on top of the mountain just chewing the fat with God," Sister Moore scoffs.
On the homefront Sister Margaret must deal with the strong tie developing between her son and his father, a jazz trombonist. Edward Mays gives a convincing performance as the burned-out, whiskey-soaked Luke. He personifies decadence when he reminds "Maggie" in a gravelly snake-like voice that he knew her when she thought the Holy Ghost was something to either drink or put in her hair.
It's easy to get involved with "Amen Corner." With live and taped gospel music playing intermittently, the atmosphere seems so authentic that the theater almost becomes a church, with the audience an extension of the congregation.