The play “Every Tongue Confess,” taking place in 1990s Alabama, is an emotional, humorous musical production that explores issues of hate crime, intolerance toward the black community, supernatural elements and gospel singing.
The Lehigh department of theatre, featuring the talents of Lehigh University and Lehigh Valley actors, debuted this play Friday at 8 p.m. at Diamond Theater in Zoellner Arts Center. The performance continues Wednesday though Saturday.
“Every Tongue Confess” was written by Marcus Gardley and is directed by Darius Omar Williams, an assistant professor in the department of theatre and Africana studies program at Lehigh.
Melpomene Katakalos, the scenic director, described how the set incorporated African spiritual connections to African American life through symbolic scenery. Her research for the scenery was based on African arts and traditions.
The tree, with colorful liquor-bottles on its limbs, was the central prop on the set, which the characters and symbolism evolved around the African and American southern traditions.
“A big influence for the tree was from the Yoruba religion as well as a Southern American traditions,” Katakalos said. “Tree spirits are represented by the African masks carved into the tree. The tree, Mother-sister’s home, served as a visual conduit between the live world and the spirit world.”
Rebecca Fryer, ’17, plays the character Benny Pride and commented on how the play incorporated African culture, spirituality, song and dance.
“What I found so interesting about the aspects of African and Baptist culture is the spirituality of it all – the understanding that there’s a greater power to everything,” she said. “I’m not much of a religious person myself, so it was interesting to explore that ideal in a creative way — not just through the theater aspect, but through dance and song as well.”
Karen Simms, Lehigh’s director of Information Processing Advancement, plays Missionary/Tender Meeks and commented on the African culture themes incorporated into the play.
Simms explained that February is Black History month and the play came out during this month because of the domestic violence, drug addiction and colorism themes incorporated.
“The themes presented in the play are themes that we typically do not address in conversation,” Simms said. “The play’s goal is to show that we are more alike than different.”
Both Simms and Fryer reflected on the experience of working with actors from the Lehigh Valley community.
“I brought over community members from my church and it was great meshing different personalities together — students and community members to create a close family within a close community,” Simms said.
Fryer also reflected on her great experience collaborating with non-Lehigh students.
“It is important to realize that as students at Lehigh we’re not just members of the Lehigh University family but the Lehigh Valley family as well,” she said.
Sharon Sangermano, ’17, shared her opinion about working with non-Lehigh actors in the play.
“I liked how there were age differences present on stage,” Sangermano said. “Not only did it make the show more realistic, but I liked how the director brought together different talents.”
Fryer explained how the play brings the Lehigh community together.
“A major theme throughout the play is acceptance and coming together,” she said. “Especially last year when there were many instances of racial tensions on the campus. People from various areas of the Lehigh community came together to grow and heal, which is exactly what this play is all about.”