The curtain opens on two young sisters playing in a wheelbarrow – and nothing really bad has happened yet.
“In this production, we start off with the children being 9 and 7, so it’s a scene of innocence, sure,” said Dayna Jarae Dantzler, who has the lead role of Celie in “The Color Purple,” which will be presented at the Scranton Cultural Center this weekend.
But the simple pleasures of childhood don’t last.
“Not even two minutes later we see Celie (a few years older) walking out to church with a full belly,” Dantzler said.
Set in rural Georgia during the 1930s, an era of oppressive “Jim Crow” laws and social customs, the story is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which details the hardships of Celie and other African-American women.
Pregnant with her second child by the time she is 14, Celie has been raped twice by a man she believes is her father.
Later, she will believe her children, who have been taken from her, are dead and that her sister, Nettie, is dead as well.
“She believes if her sister was alive, she’d write,” Dantzler said.
Ah, but maybe her sister is sending letters that are never delivered to Celie, who is treated harshly by a husband she deferentially calls “Mister.”
Celie gradually realizes her own self-worth with help from an outspoken newcomer, Sofia, and from her husband’s own mistress, Shug, who after her sister Nettie, becomes the next person to offer Celie love.
“Sometimes it takes a person a really long way before God can reveal his plan and his purpose for you,” Dantzler said. “Celie goes through an unfortunate series of circumstances to get to where she’s able to find herself and then receive love.”
“Pretty much, Celie parallels with the color purple,” Dantzler said. “It often can be overlooked, but when you stop and look at it you see how beautiful and magnificent it really is. It’s got lots of blue and red and pink in it. It’s this beautiful, beautiful color.
“She was purposefully put here, just like the color purple.”
One of the show’s most stirring moments, the actor said, is the song “I Am Here,” which signals Celie’s “moment of self-affirmation, her declaration of her worth.”
Though the play shows much suffering, Dantzler said, there’s a hopeful message.
“After all of that, the message is of love. It’s a universal language. Forgiveness, understanding, redemption, those are things we can all relate to and understand.”
So, Celie forgives Mister, who has a change of heart by the story’s end.
Does she forgive even the man who raped her?
“I’ve never been asked that before,” Dantzler said with a pause. “I’m gonna go ahead and say yes. To get to the place where she is, she has to forgive. It’s healing.”
What: ‘The Color Purple’
Where: Scranton Cultural Center, 420 N. Washington Ave., Scranton
When: 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $37, $49, $59
More info: 342-7784 or broadwayscranton.com