WBTT Pulls No Punches with "Your Arms Too Short"

Arts & Culture

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAR 13, 2020

Atmosphere begins before the show. 

Settling in for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s production of Vinette Carroll’s Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, everything seems to click before the performers even enter the stage. The newly constructed theater emphasizes the classic amphitheater feel, with its tiered seats laid out in broad arcs around three-quarters of the stage, comfy but understated, evoking a real sense of community.

The colonnaded backdrop overlooks a sparse set comprising little more than a couple risers, some carefully positioned rock formations and a flag, yet the audience is transported back to the agora, the communal market, where orators and officials would make their case to the gathered population. Set Designer Michael Newton-Brown accomplishes all this with an economy to be commended. And leaves plenty of room on stage for the performers to come.

With an ensemble cast of 16, the next 80 minutes or so promise a musical retelling of the Gospel of Matthew—the betrayal and the trial, the passion and the resurrection—and WBTT puts it all onstage, in dance, in song, in cracking whips and crucifixion. We’re not going full Mel Gibson here, but there’s fire in the production’s willingness not to gloss over imagery that’s bound to shock at least a few.

Under the direction of Harry Bryce, the musical talents of WBTT’s acclaimed performers more than live up to the task, as evidenced from the very first number, with the beatitudes softly intoned until they become a dreamy soundscape propelled by a sense of earnestness that remains honest and somehow never overflows into onstage proselytizing. Pretty soon, it ramps up into that foot-stomping, hand-clapping energy that WBTT productions have become famous for.

Despite the ensemble approach, several performers find their chance to shine. Raleigh Mosely revels in the “villain” role as Pilate, his voice commanding and haughty, joined onstage by Carvas Pickens and others for an aggressive rendition of “We are the Priests and We are the Elders.” (Their entrance also highlights the talents of Costume Designer Adrienne Pitts.) Syreeta Banks wows with vocal virtuosity that soars in a performances of the title track. And the production even makes space to celebrate the art of dance, as Donald Frison channels the pain, fear and unbearable guilt of Judas through an extended solo routine, and Chakara Rosa gives Mary’s grief physicality in a crimson display. Not enough can be said about Cequita Monique’s stunning version of “Something Is Wrong in Jerusalem,” seeing the singer give such weight and pain to the words that each falls like a heavy stone on the soul. 

At times, I wanted more power from Charles Lattimore Jr.’s Jesus, but his soft and subtle performance, clad in all white, contains an interesting suggestion of focus—that this story may actually be more about the faithful than the one who they have faith in.

Of note: the production is more than simply a dramatic retelling of the narrative of the resurrection, but a gospel retelling, at times as reminiscent of the pulpit as the playhouse, meaning that mileage may vary depending on one’s personal beliefs and attachment to the source. But regardless of one’s faith, it’s impossible to deny the talent on stage at WBTT.


Cequita Monique in WBTT's

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