Review: ‘The Color Purple’ resonates, but lacks some of its deepest shades

The curtain call of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “The Color Purple” is the best part of the entire production. This is not to say that the show is bad — far from it — but the majority of the play lacks the lump-in-your-throat emotion that resonates in that final call (a moment that actually brought cast members to tears at the performance this reviewer attended).

The collective ensemble consistently delivers soaring vocals, beaming smiles and a palpable sense of community. One only wishes this particular piece was a better showcase for their talent.

Though the Act I feels long, it still fails to wholly capture Miss Celie’s emotionally fraught, heartbreaking journey from abused to revered. (You’d probably do well to read Alice Walker’s book — or at least see the Whoopi Goldberg film — prior to attending.) The deepest depths of her pain, anguish and humiliation — and the resultant outrage you should feel as you watch them unfold — just aren’t here.

This is certainly not the fault of the actors, as their work often transcends the adapted story’s shortcomings.

Maurice Parent’s complete embodiment of the abusive Mister is the kind of immersive performance most actors only dream of giving. With the aid of little more than the magic of his own acting chops, Parent somehow ages and weathers his Mister as the story progresses.

The same cannot be said of Lovely Hoffman’s Celie. Though her vocals are lovely, this Celie remains vibrant and fresh-faced, despite a life filled with hardship and tragedy.

Valerie Houston is, in turn, both delightful and haunting as Sofia, while Crystin Gilmore adds a solid dose of sizzle as the sultry Shug Avery. Unfortunately, unlike in the film version, Shug doesn’t have a number like “Sisters” with which to bring down the house. I suspect that Gilmore would have nailed it, as Aubin Wise did during the curtain call, when her high notes caused one patron to exclaim, “My God, is that Nettie hitting those notes?”

Indeed it was.

If you go

“The Color Purple”
Through Feb. 8
539 Tremont St., Boston
$25 – $62, 617-933-8600


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