The Color Purple was sold out last Saturday night and with good reason. While this is not the last play of the season – The Sound of Music will round out the year May 8-18 – this play sends a ringing affirmation to what, in my mind, is Center’s Stage’s penultimate season.
Highlights included Les Miserables, with its rotating stage, the cast’s facility in handling the most difficult of music; Wit, with its stark presentation of the awfulness of cancer sans music on a stage dominated both by a hospital bed and an indomitable literature professor; and, now, The Color Purple, a paean to the post-slavery African American woman, place CenterStage among the leaders in theater in Louisville has to offer.
The Color Purple was selected by Center Stage Artistic Director John R. Leffert, but Director Rush Trowel supplies the vision and interpretation, Andrea “AJ” Diggs the musical direction and Emily Gorman-Trowel the exquisite choreography for this production while actors, led by Tymika Prince as Celie; Frances Lewis as Nettie; Patricia Mathison as Sofia; and Shajuana Motley as Shug give heart and soul to this intense production.
From the beginning when Young Celie, played by Olivia Allen, and Young Nettie, played by Grace Wilson, chant their devotion to each other, this is a tale of friendship between two females that survives everything from incest to mental cruelty to Nettie’s sojourn in Africa. While slavery officially ended in 1865, it did not end for Black women – and through everything, these two women’s eternal love for each other did not die. As Sophia so forcefully puts it in her tour de force of a musical performance: “Hell, No!” and that refrain echoes through every scene of The Color Purple.
This play benefits from an intimate and beautiful setting on a stark stage and memorable gospel music that slaps you in the face in the opening scene and never lets up like a two-hour revival service. In the end, all the audience can do is say “Amen!” as they stand and applaud.