On his nightly ministry on the streets of New Orleans, Deacon Job finds a drug dealer named Debarrow pointing a gun at a man. In that moment, Debarrow hears a "whisper" — maybe a sign from God — and puts down his gun. He agrees to go with Job to meet Bishop Perriloux and comes face-to-face with his murderous past in Harold Ellis Clark's Fishers of Men, which ran recently at the Ashe Power House Theater.
In Fishers, former prison inmate Bishop Perriloux (Oliver Thomas) started a church because he believes men can change. Deacon Job (Alfred Aubrey) is proof of his theory; he killed two men but has thrived in the church. Job hopes the bishop can help save the notorious Debarrow (Martin "Bats" Bradford) but also has doubts because Debarrow has been responsible for 23 deaths.
Directed by John Grimsley, the show starts with tension as a gun comes out in the first few minutes, but it remains calm for a bit. The men spend much of their time rehashing their pasts, which are full of interesting details and nuanced ideas on why some people get caught up in a life of crime. The stories are vivid, but there's not much action, as the narrative takes place solely in a room in the church. The talented cast makes the talk engaging.
Bradford (NCIS: New Orleans) is dynamic. His character, nicknamed "The Ghost," is cold-blooded but also charismatic. Bradford goes from menacing to charming at a moment's notice. It's a testament to his skill that he garners empathy for the ruthless young man. Another young drug dealer, Vic (Damien Moses), is a great counterbalance to Bradford. He's lost his son, wife and will to live. His character is full of turmoil and prone to outbursts, but even in quiet moments, Moses commands the stage.
For some, the show's religious message might come off as preachy at times; the Bishop gives short sermons. But at its core, Fishers explores the way these men survive violent lives. For Vic and Job, religion gives them a second chance, and for Debarrow, the positive influence helps him rethink his lifestyle. Thomas gives Perriloux a level-headed coolness that made him real and approachable. Thomas has touching and genuine moments with Aubrey, who also gives a compelling performance. Aubrey is a bit more questioning and reserved, which helps ground the narrative.
Fishers of Men combines strong acting with a compelling exploration of violence and the challenge to change lives. The idea of redemption pushes the work to its final, harrowing scene, and Clark brings us to a complicated emotional reality — people can change, but they can't change the past.