A Soulful Journey through Memphis Blues and Hoodoo Love

From the beautiful upstairs studio at Capital Repertory, the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY (BTTUNY) presents Hoodoo Love by Katori Hall. This is the final show of their second full season in residence at Cap Rep. BTTUNY continues their history of providing insights into the culture of people of color at various times and places by presenting Memphis, Tennessee, during the Great Depression at the heights of blues music. 

Photo by Willie David Short V

Toulou is a young woman who has come to Memphis with hopes of becoming a blues singer. With the help of her neighbor Candylady, a hoodoo lady, she attempts to capture the love of rambling bluesman Ace, who refuses to be tied down. Toulou’s preacher brother Jib puts her love affair at risk when he arrives, supposedly to start his own church. 

Q’ubilah Sales (Toulou) enters the stage and immediately showcases the singing voice one would expect from a real-life blues singer. As the play goes on, she showcases a wide range of emotions such that you would never guess this was her stage debut. As Candylady, Josy Smith returns to the stage after a few years’ hiatus to move this character beyond just a caricature of the Hoodoo madame of Beale Street, presenting a worldly, compassionate priestess. Alexander Heck portrays musician Ace of Spades, with soulful, bluesy vocals. He expertly shows the dichotomy of Ace, wherein he loves Toulou, but only when he’s in her shack in Memphis. Preston Edmunds graces the stage as Jib, with the charm of an impassioned would-be preacher and increasing greasiness as his truths are revealed. 

Photo by Willie David Short V

Director Jean-Remy Monnay has ably coached this quartet, with the advancement of Q’ubilah, in particular, a real feather in his cap. The only drawback to the direction is that some of the scene changes are far too long, presumably for Toulou to change costumes. Speaking of these, along with hair & makeup, are all appropriate to the time period. The lighting adequately separates the different playing areas to provide focus. The sound design consists of the train effects that persist through the play, as well as a music selection that is befittingly soulful and moody. The blues music sung by the cast was wonderfully directed by Jaime Cochran. 

Indeed, one might say this production and script are conveying the emotions of life’s tests and triumphs much as blues music itself does. No doubt this was Katori Hall’s intention, executed beautifully by Remy and the BTTUNY—one more weekend to experience it for yourself. 

Photo by Willie David Short V

Tickets are still available for upcoming performances: https://capitalrep.org/event/hoodoo-love/

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