Tuesday, February 24, 2009


A Song for Coretta’ in tune at Black Rep
By Marcus Ma’at Atkins

The cast: from left Cathy Simpson, Rory Lipede, Candice jeanine, Andrea Frye and Leah Stewart.

“For Colored Girls” meets “Steel Magnolias” is a perfect way to describe ATL award winning-playwright and author Pearl Cledge’’ play, ““A Song for Coretta.”

Produced by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company for its 32nd Season, The Year of the Woman series and currently staged at the Grandel Square Theatre (3610 Grandel Square), “Coretta” is story inspired by the long line of mourners who came to the historical Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 2006 to pay their respects to Coretta Scott King. In the play, five African-American women, aged 17 to 57, whose lives were affected by Mrs. King, are among the mourners who come to pay their respects and the connections that they build with one another through King’s memory and legacy.
Orginal cast member Frye in a moment.
“Coretta” is definitely an inspirational piece and plays more like a one act elegy to Coretta (hence the title) than a stage production. Directed by Black Rep actor Erik Kilpatrick, the characters are springboards to Cledge’s obvious commentary on Coretta’s influence on American history. The main character, Helen (played by ATL actor and original cast member Andre Frye) a Civil Rights era-born elder, represents the author’s “womanist” message of how important Coretta’s unsung work was in the Civil Rights Movement before and after her husband Dr. King’s death . The other main character, Mona Lisa (played by Cathy Simpson), the Afro centric artist and Katrina survivor, expounded on the lesser known fact that Coretta sacrificed her dreams as an opera singer to join her husband in the Movement. Both actors (especially Frye’s stoic portrayal) were the strongest and most believable of the cast.

Simpson and Lipede in a scene.

The highlight is when Simpson and Leah Stewart, who plays Gwen, the Iraqi soldier, goes into a powerful monologue "battle" and responds to each other’s dilemma (Simpson’s Hurricane Katrina story and Stewart’s story of battle) and repeating several lines of each other’s dialogue showing how both instances in American history have a tie to the social plights of African American people.

An interesting tidbit is the character Zora (played by “Sarafina” cast member Candice Jeanine, who plays the ATL college student journalist who is seeks to write a story about the funeral and interviews the women during their wait in line. Her name is obviously taken from the Harlem renaissance poetess Zora Neale Hurston and a mini-ode to her “under the radar” contribution to American arts.

Lipede in a monologue as Jeanine looks on.

The drawback, however was in the character Keisha (played by Rory Lipede), the spoiled ghetto girl who strolls a baby doll in a baby stroller. The character is played too ghettofied and over the top (Even to her eating potato chips to the extreme) to show the contrast to the other more dignified women. When it is discovered that Keisha is at the funeral to ask Coretta’s permission to name her unborn daughter Coretta, it comes off not plausible and unrealistic in regards to her purpose at the funeral ( A better reason could have been she was just nosy ).
Another was there were no moments of “ancestral silence,” sounds of spiritual grunts and chuckling from the older characters. That alone, could have made their characters more culturally in synch to the pathos of African-American women.

“Coretta” is definitely a must see. If anything, just to see the dynamics amongst the women and how they interact with one another—as well as the cast asking the audience to join in their singing “We Shall Overcome” during the play’s finale.
THRU March 15, 2009
Where: The Grandel Theatre
3610 Grandel Square St. Louis MO
Time: Thursdays – 7:00pm
Friday & Saturday - 8:00pm
Saturday & Sunday – Matinee – 3:00pm Single tickets range $27 – $40.00, to reserve your seat please call (314) 534-3810 or visit

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