Life is slow and tinged with the blues in Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of Katori Hall’s “Hoodoo Love,” playing through July 8 at The 10th Avenue Theatre.
The director is Nataki Garrett, associate dean of the theater school at the California Institute of the Arts.
The central character, the ambitious Toulou (Jasmine Hughes), has made her way from the cotton fields of Depression-era Mississippi to Memphis, Tenn., in search of a career as a blues singer. She will sing the blues (both musically and figuratively) often in the course of this play, as she contends with poverty, abusive men and institutional oppression.
In Memphis, Toulou meets two people who will change her life: itinerant blues singer Ace of Spades (Stu James) – who loves and leaves almost as often as that train whistle blows – and her octogenarian next-door neighbor CandyLady (Monique Gaffney), a former slave who trades in magic potions and has one for every occasion.
Toulou, unfamiliar with magic, is dubious about its efficacy. But when she falls for that blues singer with the meandering heart (and eye), she figures it can’t hurt, especially after CandyLady tells her praying won’t cut it: “You want salvation, go to church. You want something done, come to me.”
CandyLady’s potions, kept in a little bag (her version of the doctor’s little black bag), will create predictable problems, but not as many as a fourth character – Toulou’s vile older brother Jib (Kirkaldy Myers), a huckster and preacher of the Jimmy Swaggart stripe.
Hall has painted a sprawling canvas of a time and place most playgoers won’t remember and may not have even read about. It is her first play, written in response to a college writing assignment, and she makes rookie mistakes such as character stereotyping, a slowly paced but predictable plot and the use of regional dialect difficult for the average playgoer to comprehend.
But that is also one of its strengths, and Mo’olelo’s mission: to present works about underserved populations and employ actors of color.
And these are fine actors, most especially Gaffney, well known for her fine work in the local community, and Broadway veteran James, whose Ace has just the right amount of allure, swagger and irresponsibility.
Hughes is fine as the ever-hopeful Toulou, who doesn’t let even the horror of her brother’s actions keep her from pursuing her dream.
Poor Myers has to play the villain here. Suffice it to say he scared me.
“Hoodoo Love” plays through July 1 at The Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., downtown.
Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Sunday at 2 pm.
For tickets, call (619) 342-7395 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.