High Glory and Hallelujah

part of our "Community Response" series by Tyler Tate

In my life, I have felt the enduring significance of Black church organizations. These churches house meetings for social activism and spiritual growth, and encourage weekly fellowship. For all who attend, all are welcome—for the most part. The formative role that queer people have in Black church culture makes the unending condemnation from church leaders especially unacceptable. Despite gradual steps forward in creating religious safe spaces for queer identities, a reckoning has yet to come that fully receives Black, queer identities into the religious scene. Jonathan Norton invites this reckoning with his masterfully written play, I AM DELIVERED'T.

In the parking lot of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, we meet a leader of the usher board, Sis (Liz Mikel). Breathing full life into each discovery, Mikel powerfully portrays a booming, authoritative presence who mentors Pickles (Zachary J. Willis) and Effie (Naiqui Macabroad). While protective, Sis embodies a good-faith trickster role to help Pickles and Effie through queer romantic entanglements.

Zachary J. Willis, E. Faye Butler, and Naiqui Macabroad. Photo Credit: Denisha McCauley and Actors Theatre of Louisville

As the drama builds, Willis keenly captures both the flamboyance and sense of restriction in Pickles' character. We get to see the nuance of a young gay man who is comfortable with his sexual identity, while he honors the rules of the house of the Lord. Pickles says himself: "I didn't come to Jerusalem to do ratchet shit!" However, Pickles' choice of a new boyfriend causes a strong reaction of disapproval from Effie that spills entire kettles of holy, sanctified tea. Later, mistaken substances elevate the conflict higher than heaven. In this production, Macabroad's and Willis' takes on the young, Black, queer, Christian, American, male journey conveys a level of accuracy that may be hard to find elsewhere.

You will laugh, cry, and lean in for the moments between Sis and Breedlove (E. Faye Butler). Conveying lovesick nostalgia and resilience, Butler gives a totally grounded performance. Mikel and Butler perform with such a depth of believability that scenes appear as real-life events. THis is also, no doubt, a testament to the incredible direction of Robert Barry Fleming, making this production a highly immersive, hyper-realistic theater experience. Throughout this show, you may forget that you are watching a reheased performance due to its authenticity. Overall, each actor absolutely understood the assignment, and the performances they delivered't will leave a lasting impression on all who witness it.

Liz Mikel and Zachary J. Willis. Photo Credit: Denisha McCauley and Actors Theatre of Louisville

Naiqui Macabroad and Zachary J. Willis. Photo Credit: Denisha McCauley and Actors Theatre of Louisville

Applause is needed for the set design of Jason Ardizzone-West, which allows the audience to enjoy an authentic outdoorsy feel at an indoor theater. Also worthy of praise is the lighting design by Yuki Nakese Link, which meshes seamlessly with the set—especially the lights behind the stained-glass windows. Exalting the Black church experience, the sound, designed and composed by G. Clausen, features intense drums vacillating between praise-break and testimony underscoring—a glorious finishing touch.

Blessings multiply for Actors Theatre of Louisville with the award of a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, announced by Robert Barry Fleming on the show's opening night. The grant recognizes transformative leadership in the American Theatre. This foundation promotes the understanding of broader histories, narratives, and support historically disinvested communities. I AM DELIVERED'T will remind us of that mission and the doors of Actors Theatre are open for all people to experience its powerful work.

About the Writer

Tyler is a graduate of Alabama State University's Theater Arts Department and UofL's Master's program in Theatre Arts. He is currently an artist educator, writer, actor, choreophrapher, and director in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

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I AM DELIVERED'T was supported by: