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Plight of the faithful in the AIDS fight

THEATER REVIEW

'Order My Steps' explores the effects of the disease on black churches.

July 05, 2003|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

When a play sets out to be deliberately instructive, dramatic integrity can suffer. Such is not the case with "Order My Steps," a Cornerstone Theater production at Watts Labor Community Action Committee's center in South L.A.

"Steps" is part of Cornerstone's ongoing Faith-Based Theater Cycle, an ambitious examination of issues of faith and organized religion. The play addresses the effect of AIDS on African American churches, which must balance any AIDS programs with the possible homophobia of churchgoers.

The play, which features documentary interviews from real-life ministers caught in the crisis, is presented in conjunction with social, academic and religious institutions, including local churches.

This is very much a community project, sometimes rough-edged. As with many Cornerstone shows, the cast consists of professional actors and non-pros -- an uneven mix. But co-directors Paris Barclay and Mark Valdez smooth over the incongruities, and playwright Tracey Scott Wilson neatly transcends didacticism in her moving tale about the human toll of AIDS.

In the play, devoutly religious playwright Selena (a moving Adina Porter) is shocked when she is diagnosed as HIV-positive. Selena was infected by her husband, Malik (an assured Quentin Drew), a deacon of their church who, as a closet homosexual, has been living a double life.

But beyond coming to terms with their disease, the two struggle with the emotional complications that result: Selena's rage, Malik's repression and the controversy their plight creates within their community of faith.

An ingenious play-within-a-play -- Selena's idealized musical fantasy of her ordeal -- gives a surreal, Dennis Potter-esque effect to the proceedings, as well as providing a welcome pretext for the rousing gospel music that fuels the action and piques the emotions. Musical director Kevin Flournoy gives the mostly original music, performed live, a full-bodied sound that raises the rafters of this handsome hall.

*

'Order My Steps'

Where: Phoenix Hall at WLCAC's center, 10950 Central Ave., Los Angeles

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Ends: July 13

Price: $20

Contact: (213) 613-1700, Ext. 33

Running time: 2 hours

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