Inspiring: “When the Child Cries” by Cristina Chillem

“Too real to be a play” is the phrase typed on the business card of writer and director, Lee Harris. Indeed, Friday night’s show was more like an inside look into the hearts and family rooms of poverty stricken communities than merely a scripted performance.

When the Child Cries begins as the theater darkens and a voice is heard from behind the curtain. The speaker is the writer and director of the gospel musical, Leroy “Lee” Harris. He recites a poem about a child alone in the middle of the night. He describes the child as “nourished with fear” and cries, “mamma, mamma come home.” Harris confesses to the audience that he has “seen the rats and the roaches and shared in this boy’s loneliness.” He is the brother of this child, and is himself, crying to God for help.

The performance that follows outlines the reality of a family’s struggle and hardship through trying times. However, more than a simple scripted account, the musical speaks on multiple levels. It highlights the significance of relationships for survival. Dynamically, the characters endure their darkest hours with a most humble and grateful perspective. The eye- opening account follows through in a completely spiritual context, which renders it truly inspiring.

One hour and forty five minutes of electrifying theater unfolds from five scenes. There are no elaborate costumes or complex scenery. It’s simplicity is effective in mirroring reality.The first scene introduces young Nikki (Danae Pinkney) and her lazy, drunk Uncle Hucklebuck (Leroy Harris). Innocent, carefree Nikki reads the bible while her Uncle lies snoring on the couch. Comedy instantly ensues as Uncle Hucklebuck wakes himself in an excited frenzy thinking he won the lottery. Harris’ character is consistent in his humor. In one strapped overalls and a bright Red Rutgers T-shirt, Hucklebuck grants great moments of full- belly laughter with his hilarious remarks and constant mumbling to himself.

However, when Nikki’s mother, Sophie ( Kimberly Spencer) and her boyfriend, Jesse (Minister William D. Carter, III) come home to find Hucklebuck sleeping on the couch next to an empty box of cheerios, the conflict begins to develop. Jesse and Sophie are barely surviving. There is only one cupbard in the house, and it is empty. Nikki uses a sleeping bag on the floor for a bed. Jesse gives what he can to the girls, but refuses to support Uncle Hucklebuck anymore. After Jesse leaves, the lighthearted comedy pauses, and Sophie expresses the incredible desperation that prevails in such hopeless situations.

Various gospel songs provide an intense emotional element that compliments the basic dialogue. The lyrics of these songs tell stories of personal failure and triumph.  Stories such as a woman pursuing a relationship with Jesus, despite being persecuted for her past sins, and about humanity admitting they are weak; and even with all their faults, asking the Lord for his blessings anyway. There are themes within the songs that reflect the events of the play. These are: faith, trust, belief, surrender, vulnerability, courage, helplessness, hopefulness and acceptance. However, the power of persistent, unshakable faith is the strongest message conveyed.

The voices of the actors and actresses are as unshakable as their message of faith. The audience was awe- struck and filled with the sound and spirit of every singer. The songs were alive and dynamic. Notes traveled up and down the scales as briskly and continuously, as if each song was the life journey of the voice singing it. Yet, every voice traveled with tremendous control and grace. Every voice was extraordinarily powerful.

Harris graduated from Rowan’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1974. He is an award- winning producer and director. In 1980, he founded L. Arnold Productions. Four years later he staged and toured “When the Child Cries.” It’s success since then encouraged the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Inc. to request he tour his play as a benefit to their regional scholarship funds. The family- oriented production is set to show at a minimum of 100 cities and possibly more. Its potential touring time frame is two to three years, starting in the northeast and moving west.

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 A. Wilson,  “This is an Excellent play…!”

A. Rogers,  ” Amen”

D. W. Brown,  Congratulations Mr. Harris!  What an absolutely fabulous show tonight!  Each show has gotten better and better.”Awesome job” to the cast and crew and thank you to all who supported.  It was well worth the effort.

S. White,  Awesome Mr. Harris

J. Haslon, What a wonderful production!! Keep up the good work Man of God!! Tell Huckle Buck that I said hello!!!

D. Brown, “Thank you Mr. Harris for giving Bishop Brown, New Covenant and myself the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful performance. Thank you for bringing your show to Rutgers in the city of Camden. We were blessed by your generosity and for embracing our church in such a kind way!  May God continue to keep his hands on you and your works. Blessing to you!

J. Washington, AMEN LEE!!!!!

J. Schwartz, Awesome Play!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
B. Couch, I loVed the show I am going to see it again 2mor and at Rutgers.  So when is the next one I would like to try out?