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Mother Emanuel (2016 Fringe Encore Series)

This rousing and thoughtful Gospel musical docudrama details the tragic 2015 shootings at an historic Charleston church where nine parishioners died.

Christian Lee Branch, Lauren Shaye, Marquis Gibson and Nicole Stacie in a scene from “Mother Emanuel (Photo credit: Michela Rynczak)

Christian Lee Branch, Lauren Shaye, Marquis Gibson and Nicole Stacie in a scene from “Mother Emanuel (Photo credit: Michela Rynczak)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Billed as “An American Musical Play,” Mother Emanuel is a rousing and thoughtful docudrama about the 2015 shootings at an historic church during a Bible study meeting.  Through Gospel numbers, a finely written script and excellent presentation, we learn about who the nine murdered parishioners were.

What could have been a heavy-handed and grim dramatization is here a joyous celebration of lives senselessly lost.  The show’s creators have found the right balance of solemnity, entertainment and information.

The dynamic cast is made up of Marquis Gibson, Lauren Shaye, Nicole Stacie and Christian Lee Branch.  These four very talented performers all portray numerous characters during this 75-minute work.  President Barack Obama is depicted as well.

Included are the nine African-American victims of diverse ages: Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.

After an exuberant hour of musical numbers and well-crafted exposition, the shootings occur.  This is rendered subtly and powerfully due to the show’s exceptional technical elements.

Except for black metal folding chairs the stage is bare.  Working on this minimal scale director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s creates a dazzling visual dimension with his precise and accomplished physical staging and his energetic choreography.

Lauren Shaye, Marquis Gibson, Christian Lee Branch and Nicole Stacie in in a scene from “Mother Emanuel (Photo credit: Michela Rynczak)

Lauren Shaye, Marquis Gibson, Christian Lee Branch and Nicole Stacie in in a scene from “Mother Emanuel (Photo credit: Michela Rynczak)

The performers wear formal clothes appropriate for church and later red-hued gowns and colorful scarfs and play tambourines.

Lighting designer Douglas Cox and sound designer Paul Wilt’s excellent efforts both contribute immensely to the sense of time and place.

Mr. Maharaj conceived the show and collaborated on its well-realized script with Adam Mace and Mr. Branch.  Branch is also responsible for the striking music direction.

The official name of the church is The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  It was founded in 1816, and is in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.  That a young white man bent on starting a race war committed this hate crime was a major news story.

Mother Emanuel theatrically succeeds at recounting this tragedy with its superior performances and inspired production.

Mother Emanuel ( extended September 9 – 17, 2016, schedule varies)

2016  Fringe Encore Series

SoHo Mainstage, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, calle 212-691-1555 or visit http://www.sohoplayhouse.com/fringe-encore-series-2016

Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (389 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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