Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Jomama Jones is the performing alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones, an African-American writer, actor and singer who first inhabited Jomama's fabulous persona in 1995. Jomama's delightfully bogus biography has her making the scene as "soulsonic superstar" back in the early 1980s, including a starring role in the would-be sci-fi movie classic Sista Soul and the Colonizers from Mars (someone really should make that movie!) and had her living abroad for fifteen years in protest of the Reagan presidency.
In Black Light Jomama shares the stage with a great four-piece band led by pianist and music director Samora Pinderhughes, and backing vocalists Trevor Bachman and Helga Davis. Jomama enters from the back of the house, making her way to stage in the dark, a dis-embodied voice, as she recites a poem, "If I Told You," that > previews the experiences, ideas and beliefs she will dispense over the next 90 minutes. She goes on to present a mix of songsall originals that blend smooth jazz with R&B, anecdotes about her youth, and statements meant to sustain and inspire those who are wrestling with demons, be they from within ourselves or in the world around us.
Two stories are told in alternating segments. The first is set in her high school science class, when she and her best frenemy Tamika are ogling a centerfold photo of Prince wearing leopard print bikini briefs. The two girls are competing over his limbs and body parts, circling each part with a marker as they claimed it, when their teacher whips the centerfold away, chiding, "Look what you have done to this boy! You have carved him up like the Europeans did to Africa!" When her teacher asks "What were you thinking?" Jomama parrots back, "I wasn't thinking." But when asked what she was feeling, Jomama reveals a rhapsody of emotions, some never felt before. To this her teacher says, "Good! I want you to experience all those feelings. It is your birthright. But not in my class!"
The second story goes back to Jomama's childhood, visiting her Aunt Cloetha, a fierce one-armed woman in the rural south who stays up all night with a shotgun, guarding her family against ghosts of the night riders who terrorized the sleep of black folks in the South. Late one night, Jomama discovers what keeps her aunt up all night. They sit on the porch, peering into the dark void, when Jomama realizes that after a while she can see into the darkness, making out the trees and other images. Aunt Cloetha tell her that's the black light; it enables us to see what is concealed in darkness, and it is the Black Light for which Jones named his show.
Several songs are drawn from the themes of these episodes, including one dedicated to Prince, flowing with the Purple One's hot sensuality. Jomama's voice has a fantastic range, equally pure and emotive at the high and the low ends, and she delivers each song with measured timing, never rushing the lyrics. Backing vocalists Trevor Bachman and Helga Davis add terrific harmonic tones, though neither is given a featured spot. Pianist Samora Pinderhughes does have a featured solo, with a new-age sound that could lift whatever spirits are in the room right off the ground, and guitarist Geoff LeCrone has an energizing solo on the song "Super Nova" that adds electrical shock to the occasion.
The band is dressed in black, with just a splash of color here and therebass player Benjamin James Kelly's jaunty red neckerchief and a sky blue hankie square peeking out of Trevor Bachman's jacket pocket. Jomama is a burst of color, first in a mauve gown with a long side slit that she slyly refers to as "an aperture," changing into an indigo gown so richly decked in sparkles as to be every color and no color at the same time, and arriving at the finale all leggy in a shimmery, shiny mini-dress. The stage resembles a cabaret stage, with floor length drapes covering the back walls. Single lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling appear to hover, unmoored, on the stage, at times creating the feel of a starry night.
In fact, the night sky figures into some of Jomama's patter. She talks about black holes and the event horizon that surrounds them, drawing in and collapsing all matter. Her words, followed by a song, urge us to resist the black holes, to linger in the shadows where renewal can be found. She also speaks about the creative imaginations that have enabled such wondrous things as the cell phone, and the Penumbra Theatre (in a nod to the company's 40th anniversary) to be born. Similarly, Jomama asserts, the current state of affairs in our nation was imagined first by people who wished it so, and that if we can be imagined into things as they are, we can imagine ourselves out of them and into a new day.
Jones is passionate about pushing his communitywhich encompasses the African-American community, the LGBT community, the arts community, the progressive community and beyondto resist cynicism and nurture hope, to hold out a hand to one another, and continue to imagine the world as we want it to be. Through Jomama's eloquent persona, he presents this message without mentioning any particular political leaders or parties, policies or agendas. But the message is delivered, wrapped in beauty, sex, wit, humor, and abundant artistry.
Black Light is presented as part of Penumbra Theatre's ongoing Claude Edison Purdy Festival. In honor of Claude Edison Purdy, this series celebrates the independent voices of black artists.
Black Light continues through February 12, 2017, at Penumbra Theatre, 270 North Kent Street, Saint Paul, MN. Tickets are $15.00 - $25.00; For tickets call 651-224-3180 or go to www.penumbratheatre.org.
Created by Daniel Alexander Jones; Original Songs: Jomama Jones and Bobby Halvorson, except "Crossroads" by Jomama Jones and Dylan Meek; Scenic and Lighting Design: Sarah Brandner; Sound Engineer: John Acarregul; Wardrobe: Lynn Johnston; Stage Manager: Mary K. Winchell; Production Manager: Julie Carlson
Cast: Jomama Jones, with Trevor Bachman (vocals), Helga Davis (vocals), Matt Edlund (drums), Benjamin James Kelly (bass), Geoff LeCrone (guitar) and Samora Pinderhughes (piano).