Review: “Somebody Called” at Texas State Univ.
The story isn’t unfamiliar: good versus evil, corruption in collision with purity.
But “Somebody Called,” playing through Feb. 23 at Texas State University, shows us greed, envy, and lust, in the one place we really aren’t supposed to find them. The story of two Christian preachers in the Jim Crow south, “Somebody Called” weaves together a powerful story of faith and integration.
In a striking opening tableau, we meet the Reverend Billy Ray Jackson (Cameron McKnight), an ambitious evangelical preacher with a radio program and a steadily growing congregation. We then jump to the end of the story, with the gentle Reverend Thaddeus Pearl (Johnny Brantley III) inexplicably behind bars, and the plot gradually unfolds through a series of reflections and flashbacks.
Written and directed by artist-in-residence Eugene Lee, the production showcases the high quality of Texas State’s departmental talent in both the acting and technical aspects of the show.
Visiting assistant professor Tara A. Houston’s set design is nothing short of gorgeous – with a meticulous attention to detail that gives the production an impressively polished sheen.
Similarly, student lighting designer Joel Britt has crafted a beautiful and dynamic experience on the immense stage.
As the counterpoised men of God, Brantley and McKnight work in excellent contrast. McKnight’s charming evangelical hypocrisy slimes its way across the world of this play while Brantley’s determined devotion stands as a beacon of light and hope.
In the vast space, some of actors err on the side of shouting their lines in an effort to be clearly heard, but Danzeion Mills (Goliath) nails his final monologue, and the frenetic energy of Irving Dyson Jr. (Bernard Nixon) builds to a beautiful crescendo in the second half.
Primarily set in the church of an all-Black town in Oklahoma, the show features an enormous cast with some truly beautiful gospel music and harmonized voices. It’s just a shame there isn’t more variety. Two hymnal refrains are clearly intended as symbolic leitmotifs for the each of the preachers, but the repetition does grow tiresome by the second hour and eighth rendition.
Evolving over more than a decade, Lee’s script provides some profoundly touching moments and beautiful exchanges of language. Inevitably, some of the sermons feel a bit long and lose energy in spite of the preachers’ vitality. Nevertheless, the show is an exceptional piece of theater and an important reminder of race relations in our country’s not-so-distant past.
“Somebody Called” continues throughFeb. 23. www.txstatepresents.com