Groundbreaking play by James Baldwin explores themes of faith and family; renowned director Chuck Smith returns to Sarasota to take the artistic reins

SARASOTA, FL – For its third offering of the 2018-2019 mainstage season, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will present James Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner. WBTT resident director Chuck Smith returns to Sarasota to direct this show, which runs January 23 – March 3, 2019, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and weekend matinees at 2 p.m. at the WBTT theater (1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota).

In The Amen Corner, Sister Margaret Alexander has moved her Harlem congregation for years with a mixture of personal charisma and ferocious piety. But when Margaret's estranged husband – a wayward jazz musician – comes home to die, she is in danger of losing both her standing in the church and the son she has tried to keep on the godly path. The Amen Corner is a story about faith and family, about the gulf between black men and black women, and black fathers and black sons.

James Baldwin (1924-87) is an American novelist and social critic who is best known for his novels, such as “If Beale Street Could Talk” and "Giovanni's Room," and his essays, including the landmark "The Fire Next Time." The Amen Corner is the first and one of only two plays he wrote. It was produced at Howard University in 1954 and on Broadway in 1965. This touching tale is relative to playwright James Baldwin’s actual life story.

“James Baldwin was one of the most influential African-American writers of our time and of all time,” said WBTT Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. “He addressed topics such as race, sexuality and class in ways that were radical at the time, and he was fearless in telling the truth about the Black American experience. Audiences will definitely get a glimpse into Baldwin’s own life through the characters presented – especially David – in The Amen Corner.”

The show holds particular meaning for Jacobs. In the early 1990s – before the founding of the Troupe – Jacobs enjoyed his first experience as a producer, staging The Amen Corner at The Players Theatre outside the theatre’s regular subscription series. He directed and acted (in the role of “Brother Boxer”) in the show.

“When I staged this show at the Players Theatre 20 years ago, it helped open the door to more diversity in the theatrical landscape of Sarasota,” Jacobs added. “I’m so pleased to present it to WBTT audiences again this season.”

Artists appearing in the production include: Syreeta Banks (Margaret), Yvonne Lyles (Odessa), Brian L. Boyd (David), Joel King (Luke), Sieglinda Fox (Sister Moore), Ariel Blue (Sister Boxer), Patric Robinson (Brother Boxer), Khadija Sallet (Ida Jackson), Lonnetta Gaines (Sister Douglass), Jai Shanae (Sister Sally), Brentney Stephens (Sister Rice), Carvas Pickens (Brother Davis), Elaine Mayo (ensemble/piano), and Michael Kinsey (ensemble).

Director Chuck Smith, who is the resident director for Chicago’s Goodman Theatre as well as a member of its board of trustees, has directed previous WBTT shows including The Mountaintop, Knock Me A Kiss, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and The Piano Lesson. He directed The Amen Corner for its Goodman Theatre premiere in 2001.

Production manager is James “Jay” E. Dodge II, production stage manager is Juanita Munford, properties designer is Annette Breazeale, set designer is Michael Newton-Brown, music director is Elaine Mayo, lighting designer is Nick Jones, and Michael Alan Stein is costume designer.

Tickets are $45/adults, $20/students and active military (with valid ID). Call the Box Office at (941) 366-1505 or go to westcoastblacktheatre.org.

About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:

The mission of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information about WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call 941-366-1505.

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