The show was cast with all local talent from the Atlanta area, so I had no idea who any of them were. As we went through the motions of meeting everyone, I slowly realized they were holding the show, waiting for me to get there. I would love to say this made me feel important but, to be honest, I started to feel kind of bad. In my mind, just based on the venue, the lack of name talent in the cast and the level of the production itself, I had all but decided this wasn’t going to work for me.
The last person I met before taking my seat in the audience was the writer himself. He was also an actor in the show so he was backstage waiting with the rest of the cast. Nia led me over to where he was sitting and introduced us. “Melvin Childs, this is Tyler Perry, the writer and director.” If you ask me my first impression of Tyler back then, I would have to say the first thing that came to my mind was likable. From the time he stood up to shake my hand, I just found it hard not to like the guy. In the span of maybe 5 seconds, I went from looking out of the corner of my eye for the nearest escape, to sincerely rooting for him to do well, even without knowing anything about the man. He had a charm about him that seemed to come from a place of almost childlike innocence. It was both disarming and endearing and, in hindsight, should have been my first clue that he was a special talent.
Now just about anyone who knows me knows that I have a very short attention span. It gets so bad that my friends are constantly telling me I have the attention span of a three year old. I don’t care if it’s a gospel play or the biggest Hollywood summer blockbuster, I have trouble sitting through just about anything over thirty minutes long. I say this because it was more than forty-five minutes into the performance before I even looked at my watch, and that was only because of the intermission!
Everything I had experienced before, in terms of a gospel play, felt like a sermon acted out on stage. This was different. It was more real. The dialogue felt authentic, like the way people I knew actually talked and the situations the characters found themselves in seemed like the kinds of things that happened in real life. The cast was very strong and even though the show opened with a song, as most of them did back then, the story was crafted in a way that kept the audience engaged and guessing what would happen next. That was the other thing I noticed about the show. The audience reaction couldn’t have been better if they had tried to stage it. The laughs came at all the right moments and, even with that small handful of people there, you could feel the energy in the room. It wasn’t just that everyone was enjoying the performance. Like I said, all sixteen hundred and ninety-nine people at “Mamma I’m sorry” enjoyed that mess of a show. But this group seemed as if they were literally invested in what was happening on that stage. The characters and the story connected with this audience in a way that was special.
As for Tyler? Well, that guy I met backstage was nowhere to be found once the lights came on. He took the stage and, even amongst a very talented cast, stood out as something special. He had a charisma and a swagger on stage that you just can’t teach. Most importantly, he maintained his like-ability. He connected with this audience in a personal way. He was one of them and they received him as one of their own. It was almost as if they shared some kind of special bond and I knew that if I could find a way to package this and get it out in front of an audience just like the one in Montgomery that night, there was no way we would fail.
Yep, I had found my show and could very easily have left then, knowing I had seen enough to be sold on the project. There was only one problem; I wanted to see the rest of the play.