I Am Delivered’t: A tale of love & struggle in the Black church

dfwnewsa | February 13, 2024 | 0 | Dallas News

I Am Delivered’t: A tale of love & struggle in the Black church

Review by Martha Heimberg

Late in Jonathan Norton’s I Am Delivered’t, in its world premiere production at Dallas Theater Center’s Kalita Humphreys Theater, one young gay man tells another about the agonizing trauma of closeting his true sexuality when he was growing up.

“I thought it was just family, but it’s the church, too,” he confesses. This four-character plays takes just 90 minutes to remind us that all love matters, and that loving God and another person of the same sex can be hell in a Black church.  

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The Dallas-born, award-winning playwright’s latest work is set on a Good Friday in the parking lot of the fictional New Missionary Baptist Church in South Oak Cliff. The play is directed by Robert Barry Fleming, the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, which shares the premiere credit in the program. Fleming keeps this 90-minute play moving in both senses, throughout.  

Sis (Liz Mikel, in her marvelously patented tough but tender-hearted mode) is giving a lesson in the fine art of church ushering to her young protégé, Pickles (a wiry, earnest Zachary J. Wills), who’s helped a swooning middle-aged woman named Breedlove (E. Fay Butler in full stare-you-down church-lady mode) to some fresh air in the parking lot. Jason Ardizzone-West’s telling set design features a triangular slice of the parking lot defined by high brick walls and the dark, beautiful colors of stained-glass windows — from the outside.

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“She’s sent many an usher to the emergency room,” she warns Pickles, as he furiously fans his rescued matron coming to on a concrete bench. “We need a linebacker in the hot zone,” when the holy ghost takes deep hold of a parishioner, Sis tells him. Shouts of laughter and “Amen!” rise from the risable, mostly black opening night audience.  

Sis, who cusses like a street dealer, is proud she’s talked the pastor into letting her wear a suit, as long as she wears a fresh yellow rose in the lapel. Both ushers wear fresh white gloves: this ushering is serious business. Costume and wig designer Samantha C. Jones dresses her characters for the occasion, including a glittering surprise or two.  

“I can fan my damn self,” says Breedlove, finally grabbing the fan, as she brings her floral-suited body to its high-heeled feet. Before long we learn that the membership is already gossiping about these two women since a social gathering wherein some people drank too much and some others took photos of them, bosom-to-bosom, in a hot tub. 

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Mikel and Butler are terrific together. Both actresses can get hilariously in-your-face when they’re fighting over who said what and what was meant, or who put those photos out there. These essentially God-fearing, family-loving, middle-aged women are painfully touching in scenes that reveal their vulnerability to New Missionary Church, which they consider their home. Will they be spiritually homeless if they come out?

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The plight of closeted Pickles and his on-again-off-again rival Effie (a stylish, outspoken Naiqui Macabroad), two gay young friends who’ve fought, literally tooth and nail, over the same dude, is much the same. Effie is out, and he’s preaching freedom for all, including mincing Pickles, who he calls “the queen of the Church.  Sophisticated Effie, in his cool jacket and sneaks, clearly still misses his church friends. To prove it, Effie even takes a bite of Pickles ‘catfish- and-spaghetti, a dish he learned to love from his hometown in Arkansas. Now that’s friendship. 

When it comes to proper Madam Breedlove, Effie is relentless. Hilarious and moving, he grabs his pal Pickles, and they sing, “Loosen her, Jesus! Loosen her heart! Loosen her inhibition!” But what can a woman Breedlove’s age really do, all tied up in knots with her family obligations and her place, as she sees it, in the church?

“Fix it, Jesus!” Effie shouts. Another round of laughter and amens. But I was pulling for her! You need to go see for yourself. 

For times and tickets to this short run, call 214-522-8499 or go to the Dallas Theater Center website.

The post I Am Delivered’t: A tale of love & struggle in the Black church appeared first on Dallas Weekly.

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