Father Pratt portrays Wise Man in 'Black Nativity'

BOSTON -- Father Oscar Pratt was finally ready to step into the limelight.

For years, Father Pratt, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Roxbury, wanted to participate in a production of "Black Nativity" in Boston. The Roxbury-based National Center of Afro-American Artists has performed Langston Hughes's "song-play," which retells the Nativity story with gospel music and an all-Black cast, for 53 straight years.

Traditionally, Black Boston clergymen and community members are invited to play the Three Wise Men for a single performance, but Father Pratt never had the chance to appear on stage. That was until Jumaada Smith, one of several St. Katharine's parishioners who performed in the show, arranged for him to have a role.

With a dramatic spin of his resplendent sequined cape, Father Pratt helped create a dramatic conclusion to the Dec. 10 performance of "Black Nativity" at the Emerson Paramount Center in Boston. He was joined by the Rev. Pedro A. Castro, Jr. of Grant AME Church in Boston and NAACP Boston Branch Vice President Anthony Crosson.

"It's a beautiful thing to be able to see that there are ties that bring us together beyond our denominations," Father Pratt said, "to see that the whole of Christianity has a cohesion. We have work to do with regards to Christian unity, but you can still find that spirit of unity in these different expressions, in these different cultural opportunities."

He had only one brief rehearsal to prepare for his role. The costume designer "found stuff that would fit," dressed him and his fellow Wise Men, and before they knew it, they were onstage.

"It didn't come off entirely as we were instructed," Father Pratt joked. "But hey, close enough."

Father Pratt said that the gospel style of the show was "not at all foreign" to him and reminded him of Mass at St. Katharine Drexel.

"It's a part of who I am and what I am as a Black Christian in the United States and as a Black Catholic," he said.

Father Pratt had seen "Black Nativity" before, but not in Boston. He described the show as worship "through the Black perspective," representing "the history that is ours here in the United States."

Smith said that "Black Nativity" offers an alternate perspective of Christ's birth.

"For me, it's 'What color is your God?'" she said. "When you see a picture of Jesus, who painted him? Who said he looked like that?"

She said that performing in the show for the last three years has been "phenomenal." She always had the desire to perform but could not until recently due to work and family obligations.

"It's a learning experience," she told The Pilot after the Dec. 10 performance. "It gives me an opportunity to sing and rejoice about the birth of Christ. It's like being at Mass and Bible study."

Both Father Pratt and Smith noted the diversity of the cast, crew, and audience members at each performance.

"Everybody works together because of love," Smith said. "It shows that we're all human, when you want to carry a message by way of performing. It's deep within you, then you're one."

The cast and crew would pray together before each show.

"It was so powerful because everybody could feel it," Father Pratt said. "It was that same spirit, that understanding, that unity of purpose. A communion, in a sense, was present in the room."