Hoodoo Love

PUFF MONEY Johnson, sitting, gives Lewis love advice.

PUFF MONEY Johnson, sitting, gives Lewis love advice. JASEN CROCKETT

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

“Bad men stay, good mens go away,” says the pipe-pulling conjure woman Candy Lady (Johnson) to feisty but lovestruck young Toulou (Lewis). Luckily this hoary bit of prefeminist folk wisdom isn’t the last word on the subject in Katori Hall’s vibrant new blues song of a play, set just outside of 1930s Memphis. Not only does the matter of male meanness get stirred into a thick pot of mojo, but Hall adds a caveat to Candy Lady’s maxim: A smart woman can hop that freight train, too.

The small, spirited Toulou yearns for the exclusive attentions of wandering bluesman Ace of Spades (Mambo), and she figures that the occasional duet onstage or in bed isn’t enough to keep him around. So she turns to Candy Lady for some time-tested man-baiting witchery. In a sequence both slyly irreverent and sneakily evocative, the old bat describes a hoodoo recipe so convoluted it’s funny. (One surefire ruse: “Put some of your ministration in his coffee.”) Laugh she might, but Toulou takes the bait and is soon paying a steep, if not quite tragic price for her desires.

Hall has a knack for tasty wordplay and nudging argument, and she writes richly for both men and women, as in a series of strutting card games between Ace and Toulou’s seedy preacher brother, Jib (Davis). This last character introduces an ugly strain of abuse that’s not quite digested into the play’s moral metabolism. Still, this is a major debut by a playwright with a spring in her step, as well as kick.

Cherry Lane Theatre. By Katori Hall. Dir. Lucie Tiberghien. With Angela Lewis, Marjorie Johnson, Kevin Mambo, Keith Davis. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.