nytheatre.com review by Nicole Bournas-Ney
August 15, 2009
In the show Sunday Best, Laura Canty-Samuel introduces audiences to a pastor and a series of nine women—including a Brooklynite with a fake Caribbean accent and a pouty four-year old wishing she could be a Lutheran—who are all attending Sunday services at the Pentecostal Mount Carmel Church. Some very funny sketches here reveal the petty jealousies, the near-red-carpet-level furor over who is wearing what, and the deep tradition and memories at an average Sunday service in one particular Brooklyn church. Between skits, a skilled trio of spirited singers belt out gospel tunes, both projecting earnestness and camping it up just enough to keep the "congregation" rocking along to the songs throughout the show.
The incredible Canty-Samuel is quite the chameleon, easily switching accents, physical stances, and, perhaps most importantly, wonderfully gaudy hats. Beginning with Grandma's iconic red hat with feathers, it becomes clear that one of the themes that runs through this show is that almost all of these women define their Sunday Best by what extravagant hat they wear to church each week.
Canty-Samuel, who also penned all the material, apparently has rewritten the show a number of times, keeping it topical—the current incarnation takes shots at Sarah Palin and gives a shout out to Barack Obama. Between the sketch comedy format and the occasional political jokes, the style of Sunday Best is very reminiscent of that of Saturday Night Live—presenting some well-known stereotype and then poking fun at it by adding a twist to the character. In particular, Dana Carvey's wacky portrayal of the Church Lady came to mind. Oftentimes, however, for my money, this show's characters are funnier than many that SNL has come up with of late.
Canty-Samuel impresses and earns guffaws from the "congregation" as she switches from character to character. She goes from being a bitchy preacher's wife who chooses to become a nun because she can't deal with having to decide what to wear, to playing the part of a feisty grandma who in her rambling prayers asks God to smite Fox News before they besmirch His good name, to embodying the congregation's fearless leader Pastor Roland (or Rolly), who just happens to be a quite a "playa" and who seems to have installed disco lights in the sanctuary.
Though the show ends on an oddly down note because the piece suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, veers from broad comedy to an emotional monologue about Canty-Samuel's memories of her grandmother in the last ten minutes of the show, for the most part, Canty-Samuels takes a truly nifty idea and fashions a very enjoyable evening out of it. One can definitely describe this show as a laugh-out-loud good time, and a piece well worth taking a trip to see and experience.