The short background history of Hoodoo Love makes for an interesting story: 26-year-old playwright Katori Hall (Columbia, Harvard, Juilliard) writes a dialogue-rich play about Memphis in the 1930s, reworks the structure under the mentorship of Lynn Nottage, and opens up Cherry Lane’s 2007-08 season. But it’s one thing to walk into a playhouse rooting for a young woman playwright, eager to see what she has to say, and quite another to walk out with the realization that age, back-story and personal feelings about the subject matter are beside the point; the work itself is simply excellent.
At the center of the play’s success is Hall’s talent for evoking the painful reality of human emotion while incorporating a magic realism that enhances rather than distracts. When young Toulou goes to Candy Lady for something to make her bluesman boyfriend, the Ace of Spades, stay with her forever, Candy Lady shares a ridiculous recipe involving an orange, gunpowder, a few more ingredients and nine days. The Hoodoo (an African-American variation on Voodoo magic) works to a point, but even magic can’t make a happy home out of the mess of broken dreams living in a shack in Memphis. The story conveys a strange kind of hope, along with a female twist on the blues: every bluesman may be looking for his song, but what happens when the song starts looking for something of her own?
There’s a lot of pain in this play, the impact of which is only heightened by the exquisite acting and heartfelt blues heard throughout. Hall captures with eloquence and insight the darker side of human interaction, and shows that the personal and societal shames we hide and try to ignore will follow us forever.