by Tracey Paleo~
Sometimes, the course of true love just isn’t smooth. “Sweet love don’t do nothin’ but give you the blues.” And, in a raw, gritty, Mississippi shanty town, Hoodoo Love is no less than a recipe for disaster.
Set in 1930′s Memphis, Tennessee it is a time travel to the past in the Black American south, where the characters jump from being “smooth one way and rough the next” presenting a very adult show with full nudity, open talk and lot of singing from the soul.
In Hoodoo Love, Toulou (Andrea Meshel – Look What the Cat Dragged In, Zoo Man and the Sign), a young Black woman, has fled the cotton fields with dreams of becoming a renowned blues singer on the famous Beale Street. She quickly falls hard for a blues man, the harmonica-playing, guitar-strumming, itinerant musician, Ace Of Spades (Elijah Rock – Ragtime, THREE BLIND SAINTS, Burned), who comes and goes without remorse or guilt, openly admitting to having lovers in every town where he plays. In Toulou, he finds a comfort of sorts and a bit of musical inspiration.
Wanting to know what it feels like to have a man stick around for her for once in her life, Toulou seeks the aid of her next-door neighbor, Candylady (Karen McClain – Dreamgirls, South Pacific, Smoky Joe’s Cafe), who is adept at hoodoo (i.e. voodoo). Toulou literally wants to cast a spell on her man to bind him to her so that she can have a piece of Ace forever. Meanwhile, Toulou’s brother Jib (Rickie Peete – Fences, Porgy & Bess, The Exonerated, Obamanologues, Journey to the White House) shows up. Pronouncing himself as a traveling preacher who purportedly wants to start a church, he stays a lot longer than he is welcome as a self-righteous sponging, gambling, drinking, womanizing moocher. He very quickly discerns the special relationship between Toulou and Ace and by the end of the first act, jealously goes to shocking lengths to come between the two lovers, setting them all up for the hardest and most irreversible lessons in love.
The Ruby Theatre at The Complex is currently turning in a power-house of a show written by (Olivier Award winning) Katori Hall and directed most brilliantly by Richard Lyons. Now in its second extension, Hoodoo Love is a story too large for this tiny black box stage. It is crafty, fun, magical, and often very dark; a robust embodiment of the smokey, sweaty, lusty times and the earthy music that evolved from the old Cotton Belt during the early days of juke joint blues .The revolving set, creatively designed by Kenneth Olefien with its bare wood and scarce personal accoutrements (by costume designer Ariel Moore) belonging to the chief characters, nicely establishes the tone of the ramshackle poverty offering just enough ‘atmosphere’ without hindering the stage, the performance or the believability for the audience, as does the noticeable dramatic lighting design by Christopher Cross.
From the beginning the clues are all apparent. The young single hopeful girl who falls for a singin’ man and is willing to dishonestly claim him. The brother who is looking for a free ride, a little bit of cash in his pocket and has more than just a brotherly interest in his sister. The light-hearted, wild-spirited Ace who is “searchin’ for that one song that’ll have everyone knowin my name.” Candylady, the old witchy woman who casts love spells to satisfy her memories of love and lust of lost youth, lost children, lost husbands and lost dreams, having lived as a slave in her early life in the South and determined that Toulou should not lose, but get a man to make her dreams come true. Everyone wants something that seems just beyond their reach. And everyone is more than tempted, in fact, determined, to act on his or her own selfish desires at the expense of each other. The intensity of all of their desires are brewing and the results are about to scald.
Throughout this play the music comes alive from original songs also written by the playwright Ms. Hall, and smack in the middle Candylady and Ace throw down a mid-first act musical show stopper so grand that the theater simply cannot hold it, making the audience come alive, reveling, clapping and interactive. It is the ‘Shuga Woman Blues’ belted right through the walls of the playhouse! The audience is fed treat after treat with live guitar by musical director/composer and Blues & Jazz impresario, Haskel Joseph, who does his best to “keep things dirty.”
Hoodoo Love is a boisterous, unapologetic, almost mythical tale that, and although a bit predictable, stays potent to the end. The story flows like the Mississippi, speaks as melodically as the music and whispers in the night like Candylady’s Hoodoo cantations until it lulls the audience to a soothing, satisfying end.
Hoodoo Love has been extended through April 1st, 2012 and plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm
Ruby Theatre at the Comples is located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Wilcox), Hollywood, CA 90038
Tickets: $20. Members of the performing arts unions: $15
Reservations by phone at (323) 642-7358 or online at hoodoolove.eventbrite.com