“Hoodoo Love” Presented by Sound Theatre Company

This is a tale of love, magic, music, and jealousy. It’s a probing look at the life of a black woman in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1930s, a look that leaves us asking how much has changed. It’s a stunning play with fine music, and a marvelous production, presented by Sound Theatre Company in collaboration with the Hansberry Project.

The story revolves around Toulou (Porscha Shaw) who lives a run-down life in a run-down shack in the Negro part of Memphis. But she has ambition. She wants to be a blues singer, even has a come-again/go-again lover, Ace of Spades (AndrĂ© G. Brown), who has had some success himself, but can’t or just doesn’t bother to bring any to her. Her brother (Corey Spruill) a born again Christian who cloaks himself in piety, waltzes in and out of her life, and is at heart a vile monster. The only steady force for her is the CandyLady (Eva Abram) her next door neighbor who practices a little hoodoo herself.

This all plays out on a wonderful set by Margaret Toomey and Savannah Brittain, a set carefully illuminated by Matthew Webb’s subtle lighting. It most effectively evokes place and provides a terrific setting for the superb actors. There’s not a weak one among them.

As directed by Malika Oyetimein, this is a gut-wrenching production sprinkled with blues music. You can’t leave the theatre without asking some serious questions about the life led by black women then. And if you are any kind of thinker, you have to question women’s lives no matter where they live or what their color. Yet the play never sinks to the level of polemic. It is, however a trifle too long. Some judicious cutting might make a good thing even better.

The playwright Katori Hall uses Black English the way Shakespeare used Elizabethan English. She captures the patois perfectly, and Director Oyetimein and her actors make it sing. I did have a little problem understanding some of the accent, but my companion had no trouble at all. So I figure that was my fault.

Playwright Katori Hall is a young woman to watch. She’s been likened to Zora Neal Hurston and Toni Morrison. She’s willing to take on tough subjects and explore them without ever lecturing. No wonder Lynn Nottage chose to mentor her.

Through July 30, at Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, soundtheatrecompany.org. or 206-856-5520.

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