One-woman play uses biblical Mary’s life to tell story of black mothers, sons

(NCR Online) Angela Polite had little awareness of the Blessed Mother when she was growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal tradition in South Carolina. Now, though, some three decades later, she is about to open off-Broadway in “Mary Speaks,” a world premiere one-woman play — inspired by Holy Mary — that she has been developing over the last decade.

“We were not exactly in love with Mary as our Catholic brothers and sisters are,” Polite said during a telephone interview with NCR. “I knew she was a young girl and pretty special. As I began to think of Mary more as a mother and modernize her voice, I started to fall in love with her.”

Having Mary for inspiration isn’t the only unexpected element in Polite’s journey to Theatre for the New City in New York’s East Village, where “Mary Speaks” runs from Feb. 16 through 26.

The “very proud native of Charleston and descendant of Gullah people” was a TV producer in Washington, D.C. She had been part of the drama club at school, played clarinet and sung in choirs but had never performed professionally until she took a sabbatical to study acting in England in 2004, which led to some television commercials and an uncredited part on the HBO drama “The Wire.” Three years later she decided to “take the big leap” — quit her job, sell her car and move to New York to pursue acting.

Newly arrived in the city, she joined the First AME Bethel Church in Harlem. When the pastor, the Rev. Henry A. Belin III, learned she was an actress, he asked her to take part in the annual combined parishes Advent program, Caring and Sharing, for about 200 people. Even though she had never written a show and had little perception of Holy Mary, she decided to modernize the Mother of God as the prototype of all mothers who had struggled to keep their sons alive when their very existence was deemed a threat to society. [More]

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NCR Online