When Guthrie director Joe Dowling recently unveiled the main-stage slate for the upcoming 50th season, an online brouhaha was ignited over an alleged shortage of works reflective of gender and ethnic diversity at the storied institution. Even the Guthrie's most adamant social critics, however, will find much to appreciate over the next month as the theater hosts two productions explicitly grounded in the African-American experience. In addition to Carlyle Brown and Company's channeling of Langston Hughes in Are You Now or Have You Ever Been ... (in the Dowling Studio), this week marks the return of Penumbra Theatre to the Wurtele Thrust for a new production of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. Directed by Penumbra's founder and artistic director Lou Bellamy, the piece straddles an intersection of spiritual ideals and earthbound desires. Caught in a collision of conscious is Sister Margaret Alexander, the morally upright pastor of a Harlem church whose revered reputation is shaken by the return of her long-estranged husband. Led by the reliably stunning Greta Oglesby and backed by a 10-member gospel choir from Minneapolis's FellowshipMissionary Baptist Church, Baldwin's ambitious work aims to sway nothing short of a universal spirit. The debate over diversity at the Guthrie isn't likely to abate any time soon, but The Amen Corner is one production well deserving of admiration.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m. Starts: May 5. Continues through June 17, 2012