BWW Review: Sound Theatre Company's Unapologetic HOODOO LOVE Doesn't Romanticize
Sound Theatre Company's "Hoodoo Love" is an important piece that's neither romantic nor for the faint of heart. In collaboration with The Hansberry Project, the fabric of Katori Hall's depression-era tragedy is original blues music, folk magic, and the dismal realities of being a black woman in 1930's Tennessee.
Toulou (Porscha Shaw) is a small-town woman with big-city dreams of being a blues singer. But the odds are stacked against her, with no money, family or clout. Her rambling love-interest, blues musician Ace of Spades (Andre G. Brown), gives her enough to worry about. He comes and goes as he pleases, toying with Toulou's heart just enough to keep her hooked before he hops back on the train to the next city. With the help of Toulou's wise neighbor Candylady (Eva Abram), a madame and medicine woman of sorts, she plots to "play a trick" (aka cast a spell/hex) on Ace so to make him stick around. But Toulou's sleazy, preacher-wannabe brother Jib (Corey Spruill) stumbling into town throws a wrench into her plan.
Though Toulou has every reason in the world to buckle beneath the heaps of filth thrown her way by life, she sings the blues and carries on. Shaw's portrayal of Toulou is brilliant. Even when Toulou feels beat down, she never comes across as defeated. You root for her. Candylady brings a breath of fresh air to the show. She is plucky and vivacious. Corey Spruill's dissolute Jib talks a big game, and every movement feels lecherous. Andre G. Brown's peacocking Ace of Spades is frustratingly charming, where you know you're supposed to hate him, but you can't.
What Director Malika Oyetimein manages to do here is somehow even make the most despicable characters a little sympathetic. Though their behavior does not feel just, Oyetimein never lets you forget that every character is a victim of their environment. Certainly, Toulou and Candylady have it much worse, and they have to bear the brunt of both their own oppression as well as the men in their lives'.
All of the folklore and music give this stark narrative some room to breathe, and the actors believably cope with their circumstances through humor and razor-sharp analogies. Guaranteed, audiences will find themselves parroting some of these sayings, such as, "an empty wagon sure [does] make a lot of noise."
The devil is in the details with Margaret Toomey's set design-Toulou's humble one-bedroom alongside Candylady's potion-riddled foyer both are clad with characteristic bric-a-brac. Complimented by the cool, grey-blue lighting, Toulou's physical home feels like an extension of herself, men waltzing in and out through the swinging door as they pleased. And it's no accident. This is the type of show where audiences have "a-ha!" moments about the importance of lighting. Oyetimein's directorial choices let no symbolic stone go unturned, using every opportunity to add a layer of metaphorical significance to an already highly-symbolic script. But it does not feel cluttered or blatant. It feels complimentary.
This is a seamless, manicured production that packs a punch. A warning: this show contains a graphic rape scene. But the sexual violence serves a purpose to the narrative, and is not just there for shock value. There is nothing more detestable to me than when rape is used as a trope to show character development or the like, but "Hoodoo Love" does not do that. It's not taken lightly, and it gives a voice to the voiceless. With a deep, cleansing breath, I give Sound Theatre Company's"Hoodoo Love" a shook 4.5/5 stars. This one will get you thinking for a while, and talking immediately after.
"Hoodoo Love" performs at the Center Theatre through July 30th, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.soundtheatrecompany.org.