Review by Brittany Crowell
Jomama Jones truly is a high priestess of the Greenwich House Theater. Her piece, Black Light, created by Daniel Alexander Jones, has transferred there after a successful run at Joe’s Pub and is an amazing call-to-action, one with heart, humor, and healing powers.
Greenwich House Theater has been transformed. Previously the home of Sweeney Todd, the theater has shifted completely from a run-down pie shop on Fleet Street into an upscale cabaret bar. Walking out of the community center entrance and into the theater, you feel as if you are stepping into another world. The scenic design by Gabe Evansohn gives you the sense of disco, soul and funk, with a hint of Joe’s Pub, and creates a canvas for the many colors of lighting designers Ania Parks and Michael Cole, who shift the space with each new beat.
And then we meet Jomama. Her comforting presence and brave honesty are truly touching and quickly put the audience at ease, while the subject matter may not always be easy.
Through song and story, the piece asks the audience to be more than a passive observer to the world around them, as Jomama tells us about the practice of being an active witness. We the people are at a crossroads, and the audience is asked which path we will take amidst a sermon preaching of a young Jomama’s love of Prince, her study of black holes, and lessons from her great aunt.
It was in these monologues that the piece truly found its light. While Jomama’s songs were often a welcome transition and a moment of engagement with the rest of her team, the monologues brought home the message of the piece. Jomama’s honesty, vulnerability, and cheekiness had the audience at the edge of their seats, reliving each of her vivid memories along with her. As Jomama regaled us with stories of her childhood and the lessons they revealed, the theater seemed to disappear and we were transported into another space and time.
Dressed in a fabulous sequin turtleneck and pant outfit (costume design by Oana Botez), Jomama’s “vibrations,” her two supporting vocalists, Trevor Bachman and Vuyo Sotashe, brought high energy and a fun flirt to Jomama’s songs. The band, referred to by Jomama as her “friends,” were equally invested in each moment of the evening, whether bearing witness to Jomama through her monologues, or dancing and joining in song, the playfulness and engagement of the band helped to keep the energy palpable and contagious throughout the ninety-minute performance.
While enjoyable and full of energy, the songs did not contain the same transportive power as their spoken counterparts. The stylized performance and carefully crafted movements felt calculated and lacked the simplicity, honesty, and vulnerability that was so moving in the spoken portions of the evening. But, perhaps there is healing power in that as well. Black Light’s speech and song structure can be likened to a sermon whose hard lessons of choice and responsibility are nestled between parenthetic songs of praise, joy, and acceptance.
BLACK LIGHT – created by Daniel Alexander Jones; directed by Tea Alagić
WITH: Jomama Jones (Performer); Tariq Al-0Sabir (Music director, piano and vocals); Trevor Bachman (Vocals); Sean Dixon (Drums); Michelle Marie Osbourne (Bass); Josh Quat (Guitar and Vocals); Nuyo Sotashe (Vocals).
Original songs by Jomama Jones; costume design by Oana Boetz; lighting design by Ania Parks and Michael Cole; scenic design by Gabe Evansohn; sound design by Nick Kourtides; production management, Iron Bloom; general management, Maximum Entertainment Productions; company management, Reeve Pierson; arrangements by Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes and Tariq Al-Sabir; music direction, Tariq Al-Sabir; Presented by Diana Dimenna and The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director; Mandy Hacket, director of Public Theater Productions. At the Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow St); www.nycblacklight.com Through December 31. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.