Aimee K. Bryant, T. Mychael Rambo, Regina Marie Williams, Gary Hines a few of the local greats in new production at Park Square Theatre
Easily one of the best known and most beloved titles in American lit, Alice Walker’s famed, historic novel The Color Purple dominated the best-seller list, was made into a hit movie and bowed as a Broadway musical in 2005 with a book by Pulitzer Prize winning White playwright Marsha Norman (’Night Mother, The Secret Garden).
It’ll receive nothing short of top-shelf in a new production of the musical at St. Paul’s renowned Park Square Theatre with ace actor Aimee K. Bryant starring as Celie, the cruelly abused child bride whose arduous ordeal on her way to fully realized womanhood is, a word, heartrending.
Ironically, Bryant, whose broad range has marked a strong career (Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Penumbra Theatre), didn’t even think she’d be cast — except maybe in the ensemble: “I thought I’d be in the Trio, one of the background members.” Had it not been for determination, she wouldn’t be in the show at all. “I couldn’t get any appointment to audition. So, I crashed it. I went without an appointment.”
She reflects on the character she went so far out of her way to play: “Celie is important to me [because of] the relationship with my own sister, [whom] I lost about a year and half ago. There’s a lot of emotional stuff that comes up for me in her relationship with Nettie [portrayed by Jamaica Meyer]. Which is helpful.”
She adds, “Celie’s journey is a lot like the journey of African people in America, if you ask me. She comes from insurmountable odds; it’s so tragic. And she perseveres through all of that to find some joy in life despite how people demean her. To find beauty in herself and find God in herself, I see that in all of us.
“Despite the Middle Passage, the brutality of slavery, all the brutality that has come since slavery, we still are a magnificent, beautiful, creative, transcendent people. Celie really embodies that.”
A raging controversy when Walker’s book broke debated whether the story was a foray into male-bashing — of Black men in particular. Bryant doesn’t believe it was any such thing. “I read [it] while preparing to do the show. First of all, Alice Walker’s work is really incredible, just the way she tells the story. The reason I think it [doesn’t] bash men is because Mister [T. Mychael Rambo in the play] does 180 degrees, becomes a completely different person by the end. [Walker] didn’t just treat men one-dimensionally. They’re not just sinister for sinister’s sake.”
Joining Bryant in what certainly is a stellar cast, Regina Marie Williams is pivotal catalyst Shug Avery and Thomasina Petrus portrays hard-bit survivor Sophia — the role that made Oprah Winfrey’s career, vaulting her to stratospheric stardom.
The Color Purple creative team includes heavyweights Lewis E. Whitlock (director), Seitu Jones (set design) and Sounds of Blackness founder Gary Hines, musical director, who observes, “As for Aimee K. Bryant, she’s a force of nature who is a member of Sounds of Blackness, who I was previously blessed to work with at Park Square in Constant Star, the musical about sister Ida B. Wells. I’m honored and elated to work with such an immensely talented cast, crew, band and staff.”
The Color Purple runs January 16 — February 15 at Park Square Theatre in the Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter Street in downtown St. Paul. The box office is at 20 W. Seventh Place; for tickets or more information, call 651-291-7005 or go to www.park squaretheatre.org.