It’s Good Friday and the E.M.C. (Easter-Mother’s Day-Christmas) Christians are slain in the spirit at the New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church’s Seven Last Words service. But the real spectacle is happening behind the building, where Sis and Pickles, two gay members of Usher Board Number One, are dealing with unrequited loves and love triangles.
This is the world playwright Jonathan Norton explores in I Am Delivered’T, having its co-world premiere at Dallas Theater Center Feb. 2-18 and Actors Theatre of Louisville March 13-24. It’s a world he knows well, as his parents served on the usher board of their church when he was young. His most vivid memory of that time was “watching when people would get the Holy Ghost and shout,” Norton recalls. “When you’re little it’s frightening to witness,” though his mother explained it to him “as a good thing, as a therapeutic thing.”
Norton, the resident playwright at DTC, had been wanting for a long time to explore homophobia in the Black church, which he saw during the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, when gay people were blamed for the virus. ATL executive artistic director Robert Barry Fleming, who directed a workshop of I Am Delivered’T at TheatreSquared’s 2023 Arkansas New Play Festival and will also direct the world premiere in both venues, said he was drawn to the script because “the energy that comes from the idea of queerness in the Black church being investigated through a comedic lens makes a stunning evening in the theatre.”
Fleming and Norton both see parallels between the rituals of theatre and church. The music, costumes, and communion draw people from all walks of life. “The church and ritual of evoking a spirit that is larger than ourselves always has the potential to tie you to your relationship to nature,” Fleming says. “What better place to do that than a theatre?”
Kelundra Smith (she/her) is managing editor of American Theatre.
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