Q: How do you make a man love you?
A: An orange, a sack, some spices, a MoJo bag
Q: Who knew it was that easy? Or is it?
In its inaugural production, The Collective Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of HOODOO LOVE. It’s the 1930s. Toulou loves Ace of Spades. And, Ace of Spades loves his freedom. He’s a blues man. He comes to Memphis to sing and screw. After that, he hops a train to Chicago. Toulou wants to change that and him. So, she asks her neighbor, The Candy Lady, for an elixir of love. The Candy Lady prescribes a hoodoo ritual. The results are a mixed bag of mojo. HOODOO LOVE conjures up soul-stirring blues and gut-wrenching humanity.
There is a reason they call it the blues! Playwright Katori Hall pens a tale that could easily be the premise for a blues *album*. The characters are vibrant shades of blue. Their stories are heartbreakers of the past and present. Slavery mars their spirit. And the Depression is a shanty reality. The dialogue is rural slang with vivid Southern descriptors. Under the direction of Nelsan Ellis, the talented ensemble act and sing their loves, lusts, and loss.
The action primarily takes place outside two wooden hovels. Set Designer Henry Behel effectively creates a revolving makeshift house. During musical interludes, two stagehands spin the one room hut around. Ellis ensures the audience is up close for the intimate encounters. The scenes are uncomfortably personal and gritty. In the lead, Lynn Wactor (Toulou) captivates with heart-felt desperation. Her searing exchanges with men anger and sadden. Laroyce Hawkins (Ace) plays the spectrum: callous philanderer, musical free-spirit, drunken has-been, and bewitched devotee. Hawkins is a dashing heartbreaker. On the other hand, Mark Smith (Jib) is just disgustingly smarmy. Smith is slick-talking, bible-thumping, bad news. In scenes with Hawkins and Smith, specifically a card game, the pacing gets sluggish and provides a momentary speedbump in the otherwise tight drama. Bringing her own magical blend of humor and sorrow, Toni Lynice Fountain (Candy Lady) cackles and commands as a survivor. Fountain spellbinds.
From arrival, blues is always the showpiece of this production. Under the direction of Tim McNulty, a vivacious Opal Demetria Staples is outstanding. Accompanied by Leon Q. Allen (trumpeter), Giles Corey (guitarist) and Thomas Lowery (percussion), Staples echoes the stories‘ melodies with beautiful song-bursts. The ongoing musical interludes is a perfect illustration of how the blues goes from shanty victim to nightclub diva.
HOODOO LOVE is a *you do must* especially for lovers of the blues.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Written by Katori Hall
Directed by Nelsan Ellis
Musical direction by Tim McNulty
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Saturdays, Sundays at 2:30pm
Thru October 21st
Buy Tickets at www.athenaeumtheatre.org
Production photograph courtesy of Michael Brosilow