Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 5, 2010
Ready to learn a thing or two? Let’s start with Koinonia , which is Greek for ‘fellowship.’ Koinonia Farm was a groundbreaking, barrier-busting, faith-based community that was heretical for being racially integrated. Everyone was equal in Clarence Jordan’s eyes – but this was the 1940s in Georgia , and his neighbors failed to see the missionary as a visionary. They called him a Communist, expelled him from their church, sawed down his orchard, set fire to his fields, shot randomly through his windows — and turned a blind eye when the Klan came calling. Jordan was even charged with moral turpitude and brought before a Grand Jury. Through it all, he turned the other cheek, his attitudes being far more Christian than those of his accusers. He and his group became remarkably resourceful. When their farm was destroyed, they started up a mail-order business, shipping peanuts and pecans around the world; that business still exists. One of their best ideas was dividing the fallow farmland to build houses. And that was the beginning of Habitat for Humanity, which evolved into a huge, Christian/ecumenical organization that constructs homes for low-income families around the globe.
“The Glory Man,” a world premiere drama-with-music, tells the story of Clarence Jordan’s dauntless vision, unshakable faith and triumph over adversity. It’s part harrowing history, part gospel love-fest, set before and during the Civil Rights era, and it’s getting a stunning production at Lamb’s Players Theatre, where playwright Dennis Hassell served as a staff member in the 1970s and ‘80s. The a capella singing is magnificent, with especially heart-rending contributions by Keith Jefferson .
Under the assured and inventive direction of Robert Smyth, the talented, malleable cast of 17 inhabits some 40 characters: the faithful, the skeptics, the racists and the hypocrites, each representing a credible step in Jordan ’s long journey. Sadly, he died in 1969, at age 57, not living to see the completion of the first house. But his passion, pacifism and determination are excellently captured by Rick D. Meads, and portraying just about all Jordan ’s antagonists, Mike Sears is downright scary in his casually hate-filled, self-righteous screeds. The narrator of the piece, recalling the events of his past, is Old Rupe , convincingly played by Antonio “TJ” Johnson, with a zesty performance by Bryan Barbarin as Rupe’s younger self.
The production is wonderfully theatrical. The set is all raw, rough-hewn planks that are magically reconfigured so a roof can actually be raised at the end, in a thrilling counterpoint to some of the play’s dark, intense and disturbing scenes. There are also humorous moments in this earnest creation, where the singing underscores every aching emotion.
Immerse yourself in history, gospel and heroic glory, and get ready to be inspired by one man’s unstoppable insistence on “making a difference.”
“The Glory Man” runs through November 14 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado .
©2010 PAT LAUNER