“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
In “Fishers of Men,” a play by Harold Ellis Clark opening this weekend at the Ashe Powerhouse Theatre in Central City, fictional clergyman James Perilloux tries to emulate that call, with mixed results.
As the pastor of a New Orleans church, he sends trusted members of his flock out into the community late at night to rescue those he calls “lost souls.”
The “fish” Perilloux aims to reel in are drug addicts, alcohol abusers, hardened criminals and other victims of the city’s harsh street culture.
The bishop, a reformed ex-con, can boast of delivering salvation to some of these lost souls. However, when two men brought in on the same night are unexpectedly revealed to be sharing a violent, tragic connection between them, trouble erupts.
That connection underlies the plot of “Fishers of Men,” penned by Clark, a longtime West Bank resident. The revival of this play, which premiered at Dillard University in June 2012, will run through nine performances, between Nov. 13 and 22.
“Fishers of Men” stars former New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas as Bishop Perilloux. The four-member, all-male cast also includes Alfred “Al” Aubry as Deacon Job, Perilloux’s right-hand aide; and Martin “Bats” Bradford and Damien Moses as two men who are perched dangerously on the verge of a vendetta that threatens the underpinnings of the bishop’s mission, as well as the lives of the four men.
Although the play has been making the rounds for more than three years, “a lot of people who haven’t seen it yet might be seeing it for the first time now,” Clark said. “We don’t want to spoil it for them ahead of time.”
Thomas describes the play as “very powerful,” adding that “it concerns so many of our struggles today, especially with black men and some of the challenges they face. This is a compelling story. A positive story that ends up tragically. Just like so much of what happens in our community.
“This is one of those plays that makes people think about their own social responsibilities,” Thomas continued. “Have they done enough? Is there more they can do? That’s what I really like about it.”
The role has a near-real-life connection for Thomas.
A popular councilman during his 13-year tenure and the favorite to succeed Mayor Ray Nagin, Thomas was forced to resign in 2007 after pleading guilty to accepting a bribe. During his 37-month incarceration, he came in contact with hardened criminals and, since his release, he has worked closely with troubled youth in the Central City neighborhood.
All four actors performed the same roles during the premiere at Dillard. John Grimsley also reprises his role as director.
Clark, who is known as Hal Clark on the “Sunday Journal” show he hosts and produces on WYLD-FM, explained that the character of Bishop Perilloux is a composite of ministers he has known over the years, including his father, the pastor of a small Baptist church in Barataria.
“This represents the work that a lot of unheralded individuals and groups do on a daily basis, in terms of attempting to help people live better lives,” Clark said. “They’re out there on the streets on a daily basis attempting to reach the people who are supposedly unreachable, and they don’t get much attention or credit.
“I was inspired to write it because of the issue of crime and violence, not only in New Orleans, but all over the country,” Clark added. “I was also attempting to look at the subject of redemption, which I believe that, at times, each of us needs in one respect or another.
“I really wanted to look at redemption in terms of people we don’t believe are worth redeeming. That, in a nutshell, represents some of the things that inspired the writing of ‘Fishers of Men.’ ”