Twenty-eight-year-old actor, director and theater freak Ezekiel Morgan is very enthusiastic about his upcoming project, almost to the point where listening to him talk about it is a performance in itself. "You come one time," says Morgan, brimming with confidence. "I guarantee you, if it's in your mind, you will come again."
He's referring to his revival of James Baldwin's 1954 stage play The Amen Corner, about a woman striving to maintain her position within a backbiting Harlem congregation even as her own family falls apart. The play is performed at Willowridge High School, where Morgan earns his loot as a theater arts teacher. Yes, it's a school play, but Morgan, being a radical theater auteur, has taken an experimental leap with this production. "I wanted to gather my high school students to work along with the professional actors to get into the trend of working professionally," says the teacher, who also has a supporting role in the play.
Derrick Stokes, an 18-year-old Willowridge senior, sees sharing the stage with working actors as a rare opportunity for the teenage thespians. "It's a lot of experience, doing a play with professional actors," says Stokes, "and it gives us a lot of encouragement." Actress Aurelia Holland, 33, believes that the veterans and neophytes working together on Corner can learn a lot from each other. "In also working with high schoolers, it makes me stay forever mindful of where I came from," she says.
Morgan, along with everyone else involved in the production, is hoping people will come enjoy themselves and not be scared off by the religious theme. Baldwin's text is never preachy or melodramatic, and at times it's as uplifting as the music sung by the gospel choir on stage. Says Morgan, "You come in, you laugh, you cry, and you just get down and have real church."