Theatre Review: ‘Every Tongue Confess’ at Horizon

Every Tongue ConfessBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Horizon Theatre is presenting the Southeastern premiere of Marcus Gardley’s quite wonderful play “Every Tongue Confess,” running through Aug. 25.

It is an entertainment with music, drama, history, and magic that I would call must-see viewing for any serious Atlanta theatregoer in this summer of 2013.

“Every Tongue Confess” had its world premiere at Washington’s famed Arena Stage in 2010.  While it’s true that the play deals with a series of black church burnings in 1996 Alabama, it somehow sidesteps excessive heaviness because, miraculously, there is an underlying comedic consciousness.  The “Washingtonian” commented on the play:  “Part magic realism, part miracle play, part parable…a sort of epic theatre-poem exploring sin, loss, and redemption.”

If all this sounds a bit highfalutin, do not be put off.  I’m here to tell you that the show is fascinating and a lot of fun.  Director Thomas W. Jones II has done an outstanding job of revealing the play’s power and pathos but also its humor—sometimes subtle and sometimes uproarious.  He is aided by a superb cast.  The composer and music director is S. Renee Clark; her contribution here is huge.

Minka Wiltz (Mother Sister) contributes a performance of almost overpowering range and depth; her character is a widow and a healer.  She has a teenage son named Shadrack (Richard Hatcher); their relationship is touching and a high point of the evening.  Mr. Hatcher shows much promise, performing  with ease on a stage full of experienced professionals.

Blacksmith (Victor Love) comes into their lives and effortlessly shifts the arc of the entire story; Mr. Love is outstanding.  It is one of Mr. Gardley’s (the playwright) achievements that no one is quite who they seem to be; and there is a cosmic interconnection between everyone.  Someone says, “Sometimes your miracle is staring you in the face”; and that is a truism that we all can take home.

There’s a sort of Greek chorus of churchgoers who add much resonance and humor to the story.  The wonderful Bernadine Mitchell’s legendary voice and presence adds gravitas to any stage she graces.  Enoch King (Brother/Bobby) and Brad Raymond (Elder/Jeremiah) add invaluable contributions to the proceedings.

Speaking of magical realism, the trio of Brian Kurlander, Deborah Bowman, and Lauren Boyd form a most unconventional family; they may be alive or dead, visible or invisible.  But whatever form they’re currently inhabiting, they all contribute riveting performances.

“Every Tongue Confess” is a play with music, even for people who think they “don’t like musicals.”   The music here is so organically interwoven with the text that sometimes you’re startled to realize that someone is singing.  I particularly liked “Salty Dog” and “Latter Day Rain,” the Act II opener.  Kudos to scenic designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, and to sound designer Jason Polhemus.

This play has an ineffable quality (which may be its chief glory) that makes it difficult to describe.  But live theatre, as you know, is meant to be experienced, and this is a very special evening.  More kudos and gratitude to Co-Artistic/Producing Director Lisa Adler for getting this show on the Horizon boards.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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