Critic's Choice

'The Gospel at Colonus' proves timely, timeless

It’s fairly unusual for a 30-plus-year-old experimental theater piece to remain trenchant, affecting and exhilarating at the same time, but that’s the incisive case with “The Gospel at Colonus” at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s celebrated 1983 mashup of Greek tragedy and African American church service receives a magnificent Ebony Repertory Theatre revival, one that honors the property and brings it to acute, indelible new life.

“Colonus” still transpires within the milieu of an African American Pentecostal service, as a visiting preacher (the ever-remarkable Roger Robinson) sermonizes Sophocles’ cursed hero, and a blind gospel singer (the extraordinary Ellis Hall) represents his exiled trek to redemption in death.

Adjunct participants are an evangelist Antigone (eloquent Kim Staunton), pastor Theseus (resonant William Allen Young), deacon Creon (erudite J.A. Preston), and so forth, fusing the traditions of the sanctuary and the amphitheater.

Throughout, director Andi Chapman refreshes the concept in ways that speak to the present without proselytizing. The production enjoys a striking design scheme — Edward E. Haynes Jr.’s broken-arch scenic motif is an effective palette for Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costumes, Karyn D. Lawrence’s lighting, Philip G. Allen’s sound and Tom Ontivero’s projections — and a marvelous cast, whose spectacular vocals and refined histrionics approach the divine.

Gilbert Glenn Brown’s ferocious Polyneices, Jackie Gouché’s angelic singing Ismene, Sharetta Morgan-Harmon’s airborne singing Antigone and original cast member Samuel Butler’s guitar-wielding Balladeer vividly bring it home.

LaVan Davis’ galvanic Choragos and quintet members Otis Easter, Milton Ellis, Gerald J. Mitchell and Rickie Vermont produce righteous harmonies; doxology soloist Nicoe “Nikki” Potts channels Mahalia Jackson; and so on down the roster, with the choir — under Tony Jones’ stewardship following musical director Abdul Hamid Royal’s lead — utterly invaluable.

At the reviewed performance, which transpired in the immediate wake of the Emanuel AME Church massacre, this reviewer found himself repeatedly wiping away tears and joyously swaying in the spirit. Theater at its most healing, electrifying and transcendent, “Colonus” demands attendance. Can we get an “Amen”?

The Gospel at Colonus,” Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 19. $45-$65. (323) 964-9766 or ebonyrep.org. Running time: 2 hours.

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