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Agony and Adoration 

Karamu's Black Nativity rates one resounding "Hallelujah."

With Christmas breathing down our necks, the thought of another yuletide extravaganza can send a mere mortal into conversion or convulsions. However, if you've never seen Karamu's Black Nativity, or if you haven't seen it recently, you are offered a special dispensation, for without it one may go to one's grave believing Christmas to be little more than a marketing ploy for Mattel, Dickens, and Rudolph spin-offs.

Karamu's Nativity, by noted poet and author Langston Hughes, with its achingly tender gospel ballet reenactment of the birth of Jesus and the triumph of the Negro church, gives cause to vicariously experience the awe and joy with which Christianity has imbued an entire culture throughout the centuries--regardless of one's faith.

Act One, set in what looks like a russet courtyard of an Egyptian temple, has gospel singers dressed out of Arabian Nights interacting with the exquisitely chiseled ebony Joseph and Mary, dancing that journey through Bethlehem and searching for an inn, culminating with the birth of the Divine Infant in a stable.

As the holy couple, Terence M. Greene and Vashon Renee' McIntyre glow with such beautific agony and adoration, the pagans in the audience feel compelled to reach for their sunglasses.

Act Two is composed of a jolly caricature of a church service. Everyone, from the cross-eyed granny to the loquacious minister, gets his/her individual opportunity to strut, shake, and testify while whipping through red-hot gospel numbers, such as "I Love the World," "Jesus Christ Is the Way," and "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."

I could go on and on with miles of verbiage, expostulating on the purity and soul-cleansing inspiration of this show, but I have been too overwhelmed by it all to drop another adjective. Instead, I'll just shout "Hallelujah!" and do a couple of metaphorical cartwheels. In other words, don't go through another Christmas without experiencing the wonder of Black Nativity.

--Joseph

Black Nativity, through January 3, at Karamu Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7070 ext. 226.

More by Keith A. Joseph

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