Go Ye Therefore…

5168 St. Roch Ave (corner of Dreux)
New Orleans, LA
(504) 826-7783


Go Ye Therefore… is a story about two southern women, one white, one black, both daughters and granddaughters of Southern Baptist preachers.  Rooted in different racial and cultural worship traditions, Kathy Randels and Rebecca Mwase trouble the waters of their Baptist upbringings in search of spirituality’s truth, and revel in the unifying joy of song as they explore the Bible, Baptist history, and the tenuous relationship between the missionary and the native.

Directed by Ashley Sparks, designed by Jeff Becker, with music by Emanuel Burke, costumes by Laura Sirkin-Brown, choreography by Monique Moss and lighting design by Hannah Adams.  Scriptwork: Lisa Shattuck.  Stage manager: Rebecca McLaughlin.

(From: artspotproductions.org)

Two women explore, mock, mourn and wrestle with religion in “Go Ye Therefore…,” the brave new play presented by ArtSpot Productions.

New Orleans native Kathy Randels and first generation Zimbabwean-American Rebecca Mwase mind their Baptist upbringings in ‘Go Ye Therefore’ on onstage on St. Roch Avenue through June 6. From the outdoor setting in the yard of a Gentilly home to the dissection of the two characters’ Southern Baptist upbringings, this is an intensely personal work of shared introspection, self-indulgence, catharsis and, in its way, redemption.

Kathy Randels and Rebecca Mwase play versions of themselves, both as they exist approximately in real life and in a number of psychodramatic religious fantasies.

“My father is a Southern Baptist preacher,” Randels announces while seated on horseback in the show’s opening monologue. “This is my legacy.”

We learn how the two women both grew up in the Southern Baptist faith, but stood at opposite ends of culture: Randels’ father was a minister in Oklahoma, while Mwase’s was a minister in Zimbabwe, which was converted by missionaries around the turn of the 20th century.

The play, written by the two women over a 10-month period of collaboration, uses a three-act structure that takes the audience to three different “stations” within the yard. Though the passion of the Christ is never discussed explicitly, the reference to the stations of the cross surely is intentional. Staged within the neat triptych of sets — which evolve physically with the dramatic movement, hidden doors opening and props emerging from the environment — the play’s psychological action follows a jerky, episodic path to hit all the marks of its vast ambition. For the most part, it works.

We see an absurd, hilarious re-creation of a Baptist church service, with Randels, imitating her father, leading the audience (equipped with hymnals) in a traditional rendition of “At the Cross,” only to be upstaged by Mwase as a melismatic, overdramatic old church lady. The pair morph into a tag-team of preachers, Brother Ebony and Brother Ivory, who satirize the stereotypes of black and white Baptist preachers.

The intersection of race relations and religion is one of the strongest threads of “Go Ye Therefore…,” and it reaches its dramatic peak in an episode that sees Randels and Mwase playing out the story of Zimbabwe’s culture and social hierarchy being toppled by missionary zeal. The scene starts out with Randels and Mwase playing make-believe like children, but ends in an all-too-real depiction of white domination and cruelty.

Randels and Mwase put their personal experiences as the daughters of men of God in the broader context of Christianity’s depiction and expectations of women.

“The legacy of being good … Some kids need to buck that,” Randels says while stumbling through the audience with a bottle of booze in her hand.

Randels and Mwase focus their feminist lens on the Biblical character of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the angels who told her never to look back on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pontificating on the various reasons she would have wanted to look back, the two women point out that up until that point in the story, Lot’s wife is never mentioned — she never even is given a name — yet she is the one forever cursed. Why? “Because she disobeyed,” Randels says.

The examination of Lot’s wife and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah becomes a portal into what really got Randels and Mwase dressing up as their fathers and creating their own sort of religious ceremony. These are women who have chosen a life that, according to their upbringing, will cast them into hell for all eternity. They are smart, confident women — they must be, to put on this show — but they are not immune to doubt. The Southern Baptist church has seen its share of hypocrites, misogynists and racists, but how can they fully cast off a religion that has brought them a great deal of joy?

The success of “Go Ye Therefore…” is that it ultimately does not answer the question, but instead presents its complexity through a bizarre prism of show-and-tell. The audience is taken on their spiritual journey and asked to wrestle with the same questions as the characters. In the end, we do not know what Randels and Mwase believe about God — whether he even exists — but we know that, in finding each other and looking back together, they have found peace.

(From: The Times-Picayune, May 20, 2010)

We attended the performance on Sunday, May 23. It takes place around the yard of a home on a standard residential street in what I think is the Lakeview neigborhood. The performance is made up of four locations, two in the backryard and one in each of the side yards. Movement between the sets is fluid and works as nice transition. The set design is inventive and at times beautiful. However, close to sunset the audience is considerably distracted by an influx of flying bugs of various levels of annoyance. The perfomance is decently and well acted. I especially liked the energy brought by Rebecca Mwase. After reading the promotional materials, I excpected a tale centered on the relationship between the main characters. What I witnessed (pun intended), was much more of a service, a celebration of faith triumphing over doubt and questioning. I couldn’t help but think upon leaving though, that questions remianed unanswered (perhaps intentianally?) and no real reasons were given for “forgiving” the atrocious and violent history of the Southern Baptist Convention and Christianity in general.

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