Black Ensemble Theater’s first play back since the pandemic, an original from founder Jackie Taylor (she wrote, produced, directed, and choreographed), is exactly what the title states—an out-of-body, communal experience that creates the physical “togetherness” we’ve missed for so long. It’s an energizing and participatory homage to the Black church experience, which as the cast shares, “ain’t no ‘I’m just gonna sit here and listen kind of place.’” This particular service is led by a group of passionate griots in the West African storytelling tradition, with each griot/congregation member taking a turn teaching (and singing) life lessons based on their own experiences. The soundtrack is primarily crowd-pleasing gospel and soul hits (think Lionel Richie, Kirk Franklin, Al Green), with a few Taylor originals interspersed.
It’s Just Like Coming to Church (Welcome to the Church of You)
Through 4/24: Fri 7 PM, Sat 3 and 7 PM, Sun 3 PM; Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark, 773-769-4451, blackensembletheater.org, $55.
This 90-minute one act is also praiseworthy for its “big tent” approach to faith and religion, noted in its subtitle, “Welcome to The Church of You.” While God and Jesus are referenced, the cast frequently reminds us that no matter what we believe in, “what we have in common is we all need healing.” Between songs, issues frequently ignored in religious settings, from racism to mental health to domestic abuse, are addressed openly and compassionately. The six-person cast shines with their sincere vulnerability and heart, most notably MJ Rawls as Michelle and Noelle Klyce as Maven. Michelle’s story of her trans experience and its intersection with her faith feels especially poignant following the death of trans rights advocate and woman of color (and former Reader staff member) Elise Malary, a tragic event that’s brought the community together in raw grief and pain.