If living poor in the 1930s Mississippi Delta wasn’t enough reason for a young African-American woman to sing the blues, the determi-ned Toulou (Angela Lewis) finds a few more in the course of Katori Hall’s Hoodoo Love. Her man, a blues guitarist called Ace of Spades (Kevin Mambo), hops midnight trains to far-off gigs and openly enjoys the company of other women. Her religious but abusive brother Jib (Keith Davis) freeloads for months at a time. Toulou’s only friend is Candy Lady (Marjorie Johnson), who lives next door and offers folk wisdom and spell-casting potions. But even expert mojo doesn’t always work as planned. Through suffering, Toulou ultimately acquires the experience-ravaged blues voice she needs to leave for Memphis.
Hall’s ear for unusual language makes her a new writer worth watching. And this debut play, part of the Cherry Lane’s Discovery Series, has several evocative moments—especially when it delves into hoodoo, an African-American folk magic, which Hall uses to conjure her drama’s most compelling scenes. In other places, however, Hoodoo Love lumbers along a little like one of the freight trains the characters hear in the night, overloaded with themes from slavery to music to magic. A hardworking cast—anchored by Lewis’s focused performance—builds characters from the dialogue’s regional flavors. And although Hoodoo Love overstretches scenes, Hall undoubtedly has many promising ideas secreted away in her playwright’s mojo bag. In future plays, the full contents may be revealed.