It would be difficult to surpass the pure PPM (pleasure-per-moment) ratio of The Gospel At Colonus (at the Ordway, 345
Washington St., downtown St Paul, through Aug 11, ordway.org). Where else will you find gathered together the Steele Singers, the amazing Blind Boys Of Alabama (founded in 1939), The Legendary Soul Stirrers (1930s), and the thrilling (and large) Jamar Esaw & Triad: 4Christ choir? These luminaries work together perfectly and the resulting show is a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, Lord-praising delight, a pitch perfect blend of African-American gospel and Greek high-tragedy. The ancient Oedipus story is given a contemporary theatrical twist. The play honors the story even as it discovers new meaning. Wonderful.
There are many exquisite individual performances (too many to mention in the few paragraphs assigned me by HWTS) but I would be remiss if I didn’t single out for especial praise the inimitable Jevetta Steele as Ismene and the guitar-playing soulfulness of Sam Butler, Jr. I couldn’t take my eyes off the masterful choir direction of J.D. Steele (and at the end he turns around and directs us – wow). As Polyneices, Kevin Davis explodes into the play in Act 2, a breath of fresh and passionate air. And of course the Rev. Dr. Earl F. Miller as the Messenger/Preacher takes charge of the proceedings with aplomb and genuine charisma. But really, everyone is wonderful.
I saw The Gospel At Colonus in its first iteration, at the Guthrie back in 1985. In the 25 years since, the sense of delighted discovery has been replaced by well-honed, almost institutional solidity. Still, the essential idea (by director/writer Lee Breuer and composer Bob Telson), that the two forms, gospel and Greek lyrical tragedy can be combined, transforming both, remains as fresh as ever. Granted, the Greek material can seem obtuse and abstract. Dedicated play-goers may wish to do a bit of story research before they see this one. But this is optional; it’s perfectly possible to just give yourself to the story and have a grand time.
Here’s a show that really works in the over-sized Ordway space. However, as is usually the case at the Ordway, the play only runs a week. So make your rezzies today, and go. You’ll be happy.
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