Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance

Despite some flaws, this ACC Department of Drama production provides valuable insight into the Harlem Renaissance

Photo courtesy of Jose Luis Bustamante

Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Reniassance

Boyd Vance Theatre, 1165 Angelina, 223-3245
Through March 3
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.

We know that people attend theatre for myriad reasons and that a marketing piece that catches the eye of one theatregoer might be glossed over by another. For me, the intrigue factor carries significant weight in determining the theatre I want to experience. If I think a production is likely to be highly interpretive, creative, insightful, and/or unique, my interest is especially piqued. Such was the case when I ran across the title for the current collaboration between the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center and the Austin Community College Department of Drama: Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance.

First, there's the title – not your ordinary marquee fare (the program notes include a very interesting explanation for this choice of title). And the subtitle was equally attention-grabbing; I knew little of the dramatic literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and the opportunity to delve into an unknown area of the theatrical landscape ticked another box on my "must-see theatre" list. And I left the Boyd Vance Theatre on Saturday feeling that I'd learned a great deal indeed. Between the highly informative program notes, some fantastic characterizations from several of the actors, and the creativity in the four plays themselves, I felt my intellectual introduction to this literature had been a strong one.

The heightened concepts were intriguing, though in many instances, there were sharp disconnects from concept to execution. The four plays were woven together with various interludes – a wise choice – but not with a clear sense of how the particular interludes fit into the tapestry of the plays. While some actors clearly understood the stylistic characterizations and conceptual frameworks at play, not all did, resulting in an unbalanced product where the stellar physical and vocal choices of a few made one yearn even more for such heightened portrayals throughout the cast. (Individual actors were not identified in the program.) But this wasn't a misstep only on the part of the performers; the directors didn't always make clear whether they had a specific referent for each highly conceptual choice, and several metaphorical interpretations felt adrift.

Despite these sometimes confusing and disjunct moments, though, many great things are happening on the Boyd Vance stage thanks to all involved in this project. Like a living museum inside a more traditional one, the cast, crew, and producers gifted me with new insight into a world of literature with which I'd had little acquaintance. To me, that is a thing of beauty.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance
'Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance'
'Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance'
ACC Department of Drama polishes a few rare gems by black women playwrights

Robert Faires, Feb. 22, 2013

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
<i>Running</i> by Natalia Sylvester
Running by Natalia Sylvester
Natalia Sylvester’s YA debut makes the political personal

Rosalind Faires, Oct. 30, 2020

Blue Lapis Light's <i>Beyond the Clouds</i>
Blue Lapis Light's Beyond the Clouds
This aerial dance company's production brought its dancers down to earth but still lifted us up

Robert Faires, Oct. 30, 2020

More by Adam Roberts
<i>When the Rain Stops Falling</i>
When the Rain Stops Falling
Strong writing and a robust cast make Different Stages' production stay with you

July 10, 2015

<i>The Sorcerer</i>
The Sorcerer
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society's latest show may be lesser known, but it still prompts plenty of smiles

June 26, 2015


Beauty Is the Best Priest: Short Plays of the Harlem Renaissance, Austin theatre, George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Austin Community College Department of Drama, Boyd Vance Theater

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle