The Setup:The play by Joyce Sylvester and directed by Eileen J. Morris opens with a dilemma: Mount Zion church is dying a slow death. Its congregation is dwindling, and its youth ministry is nonexistent. Women make up 83 percent of the population and men make up 17 percent. Both women and men want to see visionary change in the church that the love, and most importantly, they want a full-time pastor, a position that's been vacant for the past six years.
The search committee, made up of four men of varying degrees of conservatism, has come across the resume of a certain E. R. George. The reverend sounds like a great candidate on paper, but her credentials are questioned when it's revealed that she's a woman. But not even Elder Mason, who brought George's resume to the committee in the first place, is quite prepared when he meets her for the first time. Yes, the reverend is a woman, but she's also a white woman.
The execution: Lisa Thomas-Morrison is a joy to watch as the Reverend E. R. George. She gives the character a sense of poise and charisma that never stoops to condescension. She doesn't so much own the committee interview as maneuver it with dignified grace. Clearly, these men have every concern, as the church's appointed leaders, every right to question the intentions of a white woman called to lead a black congregation, but she doesn't confront them with short answers. Thomas-Morrison understands that while this character has something to hide, she also has something to give, and she imbues the Reverend with the confidence and wisdom of a first-rate pastor.
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The Verdict: Women in the Pit is a fine season opener that's fresh, smart, and particularly acute in its assessment of discrimination on all fronts. Women in the Pit runs through October 12 at The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main Street. For information, call 713-520-0050 or visit www.ensembletheatre.org.