Spirit of black Baptist church infuses UCSC's Tambourines
BY Peter Finegan
Tambourines to Glory, a play about two poor African-American women who start a Baptist Church to make a living, sings with a spirit of eupboria—producing the type of tingling- which sends shrills of happiness down one's spine.
Written by playwright Langston Hughes, the musical features over thirty actors from UCSC's African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT and is directed by Don Williams, who has 25 years of experience in drama productions.
'This church racket has show-biz beat 10 hell," quips "Big-Eyed Buddy Lomax," in one line of the play, which centers around two women who embark on a hilarious, overt: pursuit to win converts and their money. And better yet, convert those disciples' dollars for tbeir own purposes—lounging at the night club, buydi6 mink coats and getting a Cadillac for "Lomax."
'Laura Wright Reed," acted by Fitinu Morris, pairs up with the homeless, dejected "Essie Belle Johnson, " played by Ifeyinwa Nzerem. The twosome conceive the idea of creating ''Tambourine Temple" as a way of dissolving their financial troubles.
'Their venture proves successful, and soon, the main conflict of the play is defined: energetic, lovely "Laura" is cousumed with money and its pleasures, and robust, sincere "Essie" is taken in by spirit and its treusures. 'The tambourine serves as a physical motif throughout the play; it exudes spirit when employed in music. and it also serves a dual purpose for collecting churchgoer money.
"Buddy," played by Joesph Brown, opens the play in a beautifully wicked prologue and declares himself us the devil incarnate, an archetype who comes in many "guises" and 'disguises." Throughout the play,
Buddy" serves as the evil protagonist who eggs on his minister girlfriend, "Laura,'' to milk more money from the parishioners. Holy water is hocked, and lotteries, with false promises of big winnings, are held and "fixed" on Sundays.
Big-eyed Buddy" lives up to his nickname and his fun evilness by his wanton, lusty pursuit of other women, including nightclub singer 'Gloria" and Essie's daughter.
An exceptionally funny scene is his singing, couch-circling pursuit of Essie's daughter, 16-year-old 'Marietta," while the two ministers are in the kitchen "Buddys" delivery of a tune, I can, is fantastic and the coy, innocent acting by Nadra White as "Marietta," in response to Buddys pick-up ploy, is phenomenally well done. Those silent but telling expressions, without words uttered or sung, are well-practiced by White. "Birdie Lee," played by Nandi Ellis, give exuberant exhortations and testimonies on behalf of her faith. The grandmother character, a caricature of one behalf of her faith. The grandmother character, a caricature of one whose devotion goes to the extreme, styled her vehement, fiery testimonies like the preachers of the 19th century.
The characters "C.J. Moore," and "Brother Bud" are shared by Alex Robinson and Blake Riggs who serves as president of AATAT. Other principle actors are: Clifford E. Lewis Jr., as "Deacon Crow-For-A-Day" Depreicia James, as "Mattie Morningside" Jenette Crutch, as "Lucy Mae Hobbs;" Ben LittleJogn as policeman and other roles; Allen Burnett, as "Joe Green;" Sherrie Taylor, as the waitress; Melita McNeil and Amber Carter as the "Gloriettas;" and Armond Dorrsey, Riggs, Robinson and Littlejohn as the "Deacons."
'It's really fun," said Carter, a junior in politics at UCSC. "It's a good way to get together with other African-Americans on campus and in the community." The Tambourine Choir includes Taylor, Aisha Shaw, Mekicia Harris, Shunsee Henry, Keisha-Amin Smith, Shawon Ruttlen, Michele Wilson, Regina Hatfield and Kongeto Tesfaye. Arvis Strickling Jones, a well-known gospel singer and composer from San Francisco, served as the musical director. Tina Bryant-Surell is the pianist and, henry Harris plays the brass guitar.
"its soul-stirring music, your basic heart-stirring and inspirational music," Surrell said. "You have down-home gospel music with clapping and stomping and then you have tear jerking music with different scenes."
Several current and past Cabrillo students are in the troupe, including sociology major Mahlet Adamu, who plays night club singer "Glorietta," Cabrillo liberal arts graduate Robinson and Cabrillo transfer student Cone, who now attends UCSC. If the troupe every does this play at Cabrillo, the Voice resists giving away the conclusion of the plot. The Voice concurs with Sister Laura: "If I tell you all about it, itll spoil it you better wait and see," said Morris.
Director and producer Williams said the show "marks my biggest production ever-especially with a cast of over thirty characters." Williams said that he took pride in the fact the actors in his troupe demonstrated a lot of work and dedication, putting in 12-15 hours a week for nearly two months. "They were all trained that each part, no matter how significant, is valuable," Williams said." It puts us in one body-a true Amen."
"And more importantly, they learn to uphold something higher than themselves; the "I" syndrome goes out," Williams reiterated. "It fine tunes everyones spirit to gel with one body.
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