Clear message of ‘Fishers of Men’: Helping others

Bishop James Perriloux and his right-hand man, Deacon Job Jackson, have a mission to find lost men and save their lives.

That message in “Fishers of Men” sets the play apart from other submissions to the Fourth Annual Emerging Playwright Project, said Ava Brewster-Turner, director of UpStage Theatre.

“It was the most touching,” she said. “The message came to us so clearly.”

The theme for UpStage Theatre’s 2013-14 season is “Shaping Images of Ourselves,” and the play was the perfect fit for the theme, she added.

The play begins in the middle of the night, when Jackson finds two souls — Dabarrow, played by Leroy London, and Vic Baybaux, played by Antoine Pierce — in need of redemption. But as the story progresses, Jackson and Perriloux find out that their latest “catches” have more in common than wandering the streets of New Orleans. One was responsible for the death of the other’s son.

The play is about second chances, redemption and dreams, Brewster-Turner said.

Harold Ellis Clark, the first person from Louisiana to win the Emerging Playwright Award, originally wrote the story as a screenplay with the title “The New Saints.”

In order to adapt the work for the stage, he narrowed the scope, reducing the number of characters to four. Other changes included adding a few monologues to “give the characters the opportunity to do a bit more explaining about their actions,” Clark said.

Rewriting the work as a play also shifted the focus of the story enough that Clark decided to change the title. The well-known passage from the Book of Matthew which uses the phrase “fishers of men” tells the story of Jesus recruiting disciples and refers to the idea that they should leave their fishing jobs to instead help others.

“It’s used by Bishop James in the play and those are his go-to Bible verses,” said Clark. “It represents what his mission is about, changing lives of people who are seen to be nonreformable.”

Clark is the executive associate to the chancellor at Southern University at New Orleans and also the host and producer of WYLD-FM’s “Sunday Journal with Hal Clark.”

His inspiration for the play came from organizations in New Orleans that reach out to the downtrodden.

“They have gentlemen who go into the city and approach men and try to help them out, whether the issue is housing, previous incarcerations, getting their criminal records expunged, whatever they need,” he said.

The creation of the character of Perriloux was also a product of Clark’s experience with religious people, both his own minister father and other people of the cloth he has met.

As an ex-convict, Perriloux uses his own experiences in the service of others, something Clark admires about people in the ministry.

“I respect the fact that they don’t shy away from what they once were. They utilize the people they were to inspire other people to change,” he said.

Before winning the contest, Clark staged an independent production of “Fishers of Men” in New Orleans.

Having the play produced by UpStage Theatre is “exciting,” Clark said. “I hope it will generate dialogue from the audience and get people to ask hard questions about religion and spirituality and what we all have in common — that everyone hopes to have a better life,” he said.

Cast: Leroy London, Dabarrow; Claude Sterling, Bishop James Perriloux; Antoine Pierce, Vic Baybaux; Troy Kennedy, Deacon Job Jackson.

Production staff: Ava Brewster-Turner, director; Brittany Tanner, stage manager; Langston Williams, production assistant; Barbara Oliver, costumes; Maddgame Entertainment, publicity.