Whatever you might think about the plays at Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Billie Holiday Theatre, you might very well find yourself moved to give a standing ovation to the audience. The crowd—mostly local and female—that fills the 200-seat theater engages vigorously with everything onstage, responding to the action with encouraging cries of “Uh oh!,” “Oh no!,” “Mm-hmm!,” and “Amen!”
That last exclamation proves especially appropriate to The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile, a warmhearted if formulaic drama from Jackie Alexander, the playwright to whom the Billie Holiday has devoted its season. Set just before Christmas on the Louisiana bayou, it concerns the titular minister (Ralph McCain), who undergoes a crisis of faith following his diagnosis of ALS. The return of his two sons—one of whom arrives bearing a Muslim fiancée—sets the stage for accusations, recriminations, and ultimately forgiveness.
As a writer, Alexander trots out plot points efficiently and includes plenty of finely observed detail. He’s somewhat less successful as a director, stalling the action with awkward scene changes and encouraging his actors to lay it on thick for the crowd. But the crowd didn’t mind. They cheered and clapped throughout, as if hoping to drag the reverend back to righteousness with their praise alone.