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Bridgit Brown
The Amen Corner Comes to Life for One Day
By Bridgit Brown

June 22, 2012

BOSTON -  1 Voice, 1 Play, 1 Day, is an awareness campaign of Project 1 Voice, a national performing arts service organization. Their goal is to use one day and one voice to cultivate an audience for black playwrights and to capture the African American experience in theatre.  Every year on the third Monday in June one classic African American playwright’s work can be heard across the country in simultaneous readings of one of their plays.

James Baldwin’s was the voice heard this year. All day Monday on June 18, 25 stages in 16 cities across the country read his play, The Amen Corner. One Boston theater organization was among the many participating in this consciousness-raising effort. It’s fitting that this staged reading occurred in the same week as the Theater Communications Group conference, the first time it has ever been held in Boston.

The Boston Black Theater Collective held a symbolic reading of The Amen Corner at The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. The playwright Lydia Diamond introduced the work and Reverend Gregory Groover of The Charles Street AME Church followed her by leading the audience in prayer. The readers were an eclectic mix of notable Boston citizens whose voices helped to breathe life into the drama.

The Amen Corner is emblematic of Baldwin’s unique voice and his contribution to the aesthetic of theater. Baldwin, who is most known for his work as an essayist and a novelist, weaves African-American idiomatic phrases and expressions together, illustrating the variety of voices to be heard in the “amen corners” of many black churches. Phrases like “sanctified business,” “keeping bad company,” and “being sweet on” someone or something add the stamp of authenticity to this play about a female preacher in the midst of a spiritual crisis.

Since it is set in a church, The African Meeting House, with its recent restoration and period furnishings, was the perfect setting for The Amen Corner. The religious themes presented in this play resounded loudly in this space and that had little to do with the acoustic layout of The Meeting House, but moreso because of the power and historic resonance of the space. Baldwin’s writing genius, especially his ability to use the art of theatre to elevate an account of black American life in the ‘50s, leaps off the pages of this play, regardless of whether it is being read or acted out.

The Boston Black Theater Collective is actually a program of The William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture. Trotter, an editor of The Guardian, one of Boston’s first black newspapers, regularly used the African Meeting House to promote his newspaper and advocate for African-American civil rights.

At the end of the reading, one attendee remarked that she felt like she was “in the company of the ancestors.”


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