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BWW Review: THE JOOKJOYNT at Woolly Mammoth

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A Streaming Communique from the Black LGBTQ+ Community, in Space

BWW Review: THE JOOKJOYNT at Woolly Mammoth

As the astronauts of the SpaceX Dragon must be learning currrently, in their mission to the International Space Station, this battered planet may not the greatest place to be right now. So it is with the Black in Space collective who proclaim to have shot off to a new galaxy "far, far away from Planet Earth and the Rona" to set their new production The JookJOYnt currently streaming from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

The title may be most associated with the term for music clubs throughout the the rural U.S. South, from a word derived from the Gullah. But there's little of the ragtime, boogie boogie or blues associated with such places in the new streaming piece.

Rather, its musical center is more contemporary R&B, with touches of electronic and trap music. And though Sun Ra is name checked in the online program, it's also pretty far removed from his brand of spacey jazz, though the creators clearly embrace the field he created - Afro Futurism.

With "Joy" fully emphasized in its word "Joynt," many of its participants exuberantly indulge themselves into their various artistic directions, be it song, spoken word poetry, movement, lip sync performances or even fire dancing.

To emphasize outer space and this "Othership" they're on, pictures of galaxies and stars in the expanding universe are shown between and often during the individual segments.

The JookJOYnt is the latest example of Woolly Mammoth living up to its promise this summer "in our work to be an anti-racist organization" and "uplift and amplify the voices of Black Leaders, artists and activists." Five months ago, they presented Black in Space's earlier piece "Black Joy is Revolutionary."

Black in Space itself was created in D.C. to "celebrate the diversity and resilience of Black LGBTQ+ communities through art and social engagement at the intersection of technology." It works with Makers Lab, a D.C. collective that offers sober, or what it calls "zero proof programming," in order to "ensure our friends in recovery can safely access community spaces."

And so Black in Space enlivens the otherwise empty spaces of Woolly Mammoth, where the trans woman Boujee dances up and around the stairways of the theater lobby in recurring segments, dressed a a mini and sneakers to music by D.C. musician Asha Santee.

Maddie Ann Stuckey endeavors to tie things together through intermittent narration, organizing the pieces into themes of vulnerability, intimacy and connection - all further strained by the forced separation of the Covid era.

A couple of the most powerful moments come from the spoken word artists, such as Charity Blackwell, who sits on a wall beneath a staircase and says, "How do you expect me to joyfully, consistently show up as my full self, expect me to swallow the jagged pills of oppression and endure other cuts of microagression and put my trauma on the shelf? I'm tired."

"Stand strong, be proud," urges the poet C. Thomas, wearing a T-shirt that says "Ally or A Lie?" "You don't owe anyone an explanation." Samantha B speaks of the nature of love and of a morning after in two sultry pieces.

There is music in this modern juke joint, but it arises from the drag traditions of lip sync, as Blaq Dinamyte performs Dexter Jordan's "Contradicting" and the extravagantly made up Vagenesis performs a five-minute song from D.C. musician Be Steadwell.

Most spectacular (and the most artfully filmed) is the performance of Eva Mystique in her striking burlesque fire dancing, executed to the music of Danni Cassette

It is up to Rayceen Pendarvis to wrap things up at the end, emphasizing the importance of the kind of safe havens that have allowed this very expression.

The JookJOYnt would still have been more powerful presented live in a theater, but one advantage of the streaming platform is that one can watch it more than once, and glean more from it a second time. And best of all, it's free for everyone.

Running time: 43 minutes.

"The JookJOYnt" runs through this Sunday, Nov. 22, via Woolly Mammoth and is free. Tickets are available online or call 202-393-3939 for more information.

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From This Author Roger Catlin