BWW Review: FREEDA PEOPLES Shakes the Foundation of The Ensemble Theatre
When going to the theatre, we want to be entertained or we want to learn or be informed. I had the pleasure of seeing The Ensemble's production of FREEDA PEOPLES, and let's just say that I was taken to a place where I was familiar and the story resonated deeply. Now it has been a few days since I saw this production and still with every conversation I find myself centering my attention around this great production. Written by Joyce Sylvester this production tackles church hurt, family secrets and homosexuality within the church and if you aren't ready for an in-your-face story I suggest you just wait for the gossip about the show.
If you're a churchgoer and specifically a member of a black church, the issues in this production aren't foreign. In this story, we learn about backsliding deacons, disgruntled church elders, and hate towards the new pastor. Not saying that every church has these issues, but if you aren't in a church that has these issues you've heard of a church that has.
The show begins with the newly elected Reverend Scott (Jason Carmichael) preaching his sermon and hooping getting the audience involved. For the definition of hooping see my last review. Immediately following the sermon we are thrust into the backroom where the deacons meet to count tithes and offering. We are thrown into the backstage politics and antics of the black church. Homophobia is quickly addressed when one of the deacons talks about the choir director, he says, "He leads the choir like a sister from the hood." This statement along with Elder Jones' (Roc Living) old school thinking, I am taking back to my days working on the inner circle of leadership at my old church. Elder Jones doesn't want Rev. Scott in the role of pastor and will do anything to usurp his leadership and rock the boat any way he can. This same issue is prevalent when a pastor dies and another pastor takes over leadership.
Finally, we are introduced to Freeda People (Callina Situka) and her presence as well as role in this production was a bit questioned as we try to link her to the narrative. She comes to the church and immediately she is ridiculed by the women in the church by her dress. Often times young women have driven away from the from issues such as this which appears in the play. This is proof positive that the Titus Women in the black church no longer in existence. Titus 2:3-5 says, "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." By the actions of Sister Ann (Joyce Anastasia Murray) this philosophy is thrown into the vestibule! It is during this scene where something divine happens, Sister Ann opens up and talks about being raped as a young girl. Still, during this moment, I was confused as to who or why Freeda People was there. When this scene ends Freeda lets Sister Ann know that while the church is talking about her dress, it was the same dress she was wearing just a different color, and she tells her that Deacon Beasley, her husband has felt her up in a meeting. Throughout the play, Freeda meets other members of the church, and their truth is revealed. The audience has the chance to see why these people are wounded. We are taught to believe that when you are in the church you are excused from the toils of life or your haunting past is erased without stain. This ignorant ideal is the reasons we put pastors on a pedestal, failing to remember that he or she puts their pants on one leg at a time and they are human. In Romans 3:23, it says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Growing up a church kid where my father was a deacon and my brother was a Sr. Pastor, life on the homefront wasn't as easy as people thought! While being in high places of church leadership, these people are mentoring families, and counseling fledgling marriages while their families and marriages are in shambles. Reba (Delali Potakey) is the wife of Rev. Scott and she is at her Wit's End. She is a woman who is strong and isn't afraid to celebrate her sexual needs and desires. Rev. Scott thinks he knows his wife but there is a sexual awakening that has come to her and now it is time for him to rise to the occasion. I love how the playwright spotlighted a healthy sexual relationship amongst married people who work in the church. It is assumed that life is dead once you're married and if you're a member of the cloth! This play has its highs and lows but doesn't skimp on the drama.
The relationship between Deacon Beasley (Byron Jacquet) and his wife Sister Ann (Joyce Anastasia Murray) is tested. Elder Jones (Roc Living) is diagnosed with a terminal illness and he has a vengeance that is fueled with hate for the pastor and hate for himself. Deacon Lewis (Shane Warren Jones) has come out of the closet and professed his love for Rev. Scott and now Rev. Scott is at a spiritual crossroad. How will he be the pastor that he's called to be knowing that his next Associate Pastor is gay and is in love with him? And again, who the hell is this Freeda People? If you haven't guessed by now by the name she's an angel sent from God to help Free-da People! Now no more spoilers, you need to get to the theatre and see this show before it closes.
The theatre is a temple and the Ensemble Theatre evokes a soul-stirring production filled with taboos within the black church community runs away from. Whenever someone leaves the theatre after intermission you know that the artists and director did their job. Theatre is supposed to offend, upset and make you uncomfortable. We are too complacent with our art at times making art that won't step on the toes of the people, well I am here to tell you that this production of FREEDA PEOPLES aka Touched by an Angel 2.0, is In Your Face, and forces the church community to search themselves and sweep around their own back porch before holding someone else in spiritual contempt! I want to applaud Eileen J. Morris and the Ensemble Theatre for producing a play that has issues that are controversial and In Your Face. The one message that comes from this show is love, not condemnation. I am brought to Matthew 22:39 which reads, And the second is like, unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Could you imagine a world where we all loved each other? What a wonderful world! Run don't walk to get your tickets to this production now through April 14th at the Ensemble Theatre.
FREEDA PEOPLES continues through April 14 at The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For information, call 713-520-0055 or visit ensemblehouston.com. $23-$50.