By Carter Hall, staff reporter ¦
Each summer, Amarillo’s acting troupe Merely Players stages performances at the college’s Experimental Theatre located on the Washington Street. I had the opportunity to watch “Steel Magnolias” as a requirement for a summer class and enjoyed the play, so, when I was invited to watch another production titled “Cotton Patch Gospel,” I did not hesitate to accept.
“Cotton Patch Gospel” is a musical that covers the New Testament of the Bible, but in a totally different and modern way. I walked into this play and I did not know a single detail. I stood there in line on a Friday night on campus and I did not know what I had gotten myself into. I told myself, “I could be watching a movie right now or at home listening to my favorite vinyl and eating Whataburger.” I was handed a program and directed to the auditorium. I walked in and I had to do a double take. There was a room full of chairs, but not that many people. “OK, Carter, the show does not start for a few minutes, maybe people will start filing in.” Unfortunately, that did not happen. I sat there studying the program, observing the set and then the lights finally went dark.
When the lights finally came back up, there stood a man with a guitar. He started to strum a few strings and then gave his first few lines. As this man was singing, the cast started to make their appearance, dancing and singing. Just like that, I was captivated. The upbeat melody of the first song had me hooked, and I wanted more. Throughout the opening song, I could not keep from smiling. The entire musical talks about Jesus and the New Testament as if it is happening in present time. That’s right, this play covers everything from the birth of Jesus all the way to his death.
It starts out with Mary and Joe giving birth to Jesus in Gainesville, Georgia. The great storytelling is provided by only eight actors. They sing and dance all through the play providing the audience with fascinating entertainment about the trials and tribulations that Jesus faced. You do not have to be a biblical scholar to follow the story. I have read parts of the New Testament from the Book of Matthew to the Book of Mark, so I had a bit of insight regarding what was happening next which followed Jesus walking the desert and fasting for 40 days and nights, to Jesus being betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver, to the resurrection of Jesus after his “lynching.” Go watch the play and you will understand what I am talking about.
Throughout the play, I felt every emotion imaginable. I was happy, angry and might have had a tear in my eye. The acting and singing gave me chills up and down my spine. I could not get enough of “Cotton Patch Gospel.”
What also struck me was the set. I did not notice it until after the intermission. It was right in front of me the whole time and I did not see it. Right smack in the center of the set, there was a symbol of a cross. The set designers threw in everything but the kitchen sink on this set. There were small stained-glass windows that were hanging down, old milk crates scattered about the floor and old church pews lined the set. There was beautiful lighting throughout the play to spark emotions. There were times I felt as if I were in church myself.
Overall, “Cotton Patch Gospel” was an amazing production put on by a phenomenal cast with a robust talent. I would love the chance to go watch it again and I would pay double to watch it. I was disappointed that more people were not there to witness its opening night. Make sure to add “Cotton Patch Gospel” to your list of activities next weekend. The Merely Players will present the show again Aug. 24 through Aug. 26. You can make reservations by calling 371-5359–or going to theatreac.org and clicking on the “Season” button, then scrolling down to fill out an online reservation. Take my word, this production is worth the price of admission, so reserve your seats soon.