by Sue Suchyta
“A Song for Coretta” is a must-see production – praise I rarely bestow. The strong, powerful drama is deeply moving, wonderfully directed, and performed by five talented young women.
Set in Atlanta in 2006, Pearl Cleage’s “A Song for Coretta” takes place outside historic Ebenezer Baptist Church as five women – each from very different backgrounds – wait to pay their respects at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. While in line, a freelance reporter seeks the reasons people came to pay their respects, and the individual stories that emerge are powerful, moving and unexpected.
This may be the best show I have ever seen at Wayne State University’s Studio Theater – and yes – it really is that good. I drove home with the car stereo off because I wanted to savor the feelings the performance had stirred within me.
It defies racial stereotypes. I urge audiences of all backgrounds to see the show – please do not dismiss seeing the show because you think the subject matter is of no interest. It appeals deeply to the common humanity we all share.
The show runs through Nov.16, with 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees in the Studio Theatre, in the basement of the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass at Hancock in Detroit.
Tickets are $10 and $12, and are available by calling 313 577-2972, or online at wsushows.com.
Billicia Hines, assistant professor and director of the Black Theatre Program, makes a strong impression in her WSU directorial debut. The remarkable ensemble makes a lasting impression as well.
Tayler Jones, who made her Shakespearean debut as Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Players Guild of Dearborn in August, shows her versatility and talent as Helen, the feisty matriarch of the group, who recalls meeting Coretta Scott King as a child during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.
Erian Williams plays Zora, a freelance reporter who get more than she bargained for when her interview subjects share compelling and moving stories behind their decision to attend Coretta Scott King’s funeral. She carefully strikes a balance between the neutrality of a reporter and the empathy that develops among the women as their heart-wrenching stories unfold.
Kayla Mundy is both mesmerizing and amusing as Keisha, a lower class, poorly educated, stereotypical unwed teen mother, who surprises the other characters and the audience as her personae unfolds to reveal depth belied by her character’s cheap, provocative clothing and painful lack of education. While she provides comic relief, her character produces some of the most revealing and unexpected insights as well.
Breon Canady, as Gwen, an army medic on leave from the Middle East, and Maria Simpkins as Mona Lisa, a New Orleans Hurricane Katrina survivor, have the most demanding roles, and hold the audience in thrall as their gut-wrenching tales unfold and are told in tandem. Both are struggling with post-traumatic stress, and their skillful and emotional performances are powerful elements of the play.
While each character has a symbolic or actual tie to Coretta Scott King as a reason for attending her funeral, their powerful stories that unfold are at the heart of the play. The audience, moved by the compelling performances, discovers their commonality with the characters as well.
Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance presents “A Song for Coretta” now through Nov. 16 at the Studio Theater, with Tayler Jones (left) as Helen, Maria Simpkins as Mona, Breon Canady as Gwen, and Erian Williams as Zora. For tickets and information call 313 577-2972 or go to wsushows.com.