Play explores homophobia in the black church
If earnestness were all it took to make a good play, “A Love Like Damien’s” would be a masterpiece. Its good intentions stick out all over the place but it’s a thinly constructed gruel indeed.
Damien (Tarik Daniels) is a young black man with an alcohol and drug problem—who may have attempted suicide—all because of the homophobia of his church congregation. It seems that he and his ex-boyfriend were denied inclusion in a Valentine’s Day blessing bestowed by the former pastor of the church the year before.
We meet Damien at his lowest ebb. He’s homeless and—get this—dating a white boy, a relationship that the play for all its uplift takes a dim view of. It’s proof that he’s completely lost.
The play has a fantastical framework. Damien’s plight has been brought to the attention of a matriarchal god, Sophie Divine (Denise Collins), the kind who intervenes in men’s affairs. She gives him a good talking to and miraculously he’s cured of his addictions.
Sophie is attended by two spirits who prance around the stage at the slightest provocation making waving motions with their hands to signal otherwordliness.
The new pastor (Carmen Balentine) is an enlightened reformer who wants to make the church open to everyone but he’s afraid of how the congregation will react if he allows homosexuals to be blest.
After much heavy breathing, he does the right thing. Lots of singing and dancing ensues particularly by those two damn spirits.
The acting is uneven, with the pastor and Damien’s grandmother (Ayanna Williams) taking the top honors. Daniels, a willowy young man, never seems to find his character, perhaps because the part is not really written.
A Valentine’s Day blessing is really not enough to send one over the edge and the institutional homophobia of the church congregation is poorly dramatized with much shouting and the issuance of threats.
The playwright, Andrea E. Davis, can’t find the core of her material because the devices she chooses aren’t strong enough.
Homophobia is an evil and it comes in many shapes. It’s insidious and not everyone sits on one side of the fence or the other. A little ambivalence or shading would go a long way here and it isn’t satisfied by the prejudice tossed off casually at Damien’s white boyfriend—who shows up at the blessing with another black man.
The direction by Andre Lancaster is brisk but he’s saddled with those spirits who pop up periodically and the dancing goes on too long. The lighting design by Sharon Dougherty is effective. The play itself needs a rewrite.