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'Hoodoo Love' at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company

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June 7, 2012 1:53 p.m.


Nataki Garrett, director of “Hoodoo Love,” and associate dean at CalArts.

Seema Sueko, artistic director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company.

Related Story: 'Hoodoo Love' Brings The Blues To Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Every plineeds a little magic. Now there's a new production at Mo'olelo performing arts that has a whole lot of magic. It's about love, ambition, the heavy weight of the past, and Mojo. It's called hoodoo love, the first effort by celebrated playwright Katori Hall. Nataki Garrett, associate dean at cal arts, welcome.
GARRETT: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Seema, welcome back.
SUEKO: Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: Why did you want to stage this play? What interests you about it?
SUEKO: So many things. I think the initial interest came -- last year we produced stick flight. And what was so successful was our engagement of African American audiences, and a partnership with the NAACP. So we needed to build upon that, and started reading more plays by African American writers, and same across this script. I love the context, the historical context this play is set in. Late 20, early thirties Memphis. End of the Harlem renaissance. And there's music in. First time effort.
CAVANAUGH: Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of this plot?
SUEKO: A young woman named Tulu from Mississippi new living in Memphis. She has dreams of becoming a blue singer, and she falls in love withes a of spades, a rambling blues man. And he's got a woman in every city. So Tulu whips up a potion of hoodoo magic to get him to love her. And it works, but then it works in mysterious ways. And once she opens up that door, a whole bunch of, things start happening. And she gets more than she bargained for.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk about the playwright, Katori hall. Nitacky, you have a lot of respect for this playwright. What is it about her writing that you like?
GARRETT: It's just, she's so beautiful in her ability to encapsulate the African American experience, specifically the experience of women. There's a kind of a reverence for the power of women, and this will to survive that is inherent in all of her plays. Even her current play, Mountain top is really about the woman who sat with Martin Luther King the night before he died. He is the backdrop for this woman's rise, in the same way that the blues is a way of looking at how women have risen in the United States , black women in particular.
CAVANAUGH: Seema, I said celebrated playwright, what I introduced this. Katori hall has had a very successful career.
SUEKO: She's probably most well known right now for this play, the Mountaintop, and it premiered on Broadway last year, very celebrated production. She was the first black American woman to win the Olivier award for best new play. She's got another new play, Hurt Village. Of the Mounttop will be at San Diego rep next season. She's a young woman, and she's accomplished so much, and her voice is so unique and bold. It's wonderful to have an opportunity to work on her play.
CAVANAUGH: When you read about her, you read so much written about the language of her play. So I want us to hear a scene from the play right now. We're lucky to have two of the Mo'olelo actors with us, Jasmine Hughes, and Monique Gaffney.
GARRETT: We see the deep friendship between the characters, Tulu, and candy lady, as they talk about the younger woman's love for the Ace of Spades.
Tulu: I thinks I need one of them.
CANDY LADY: Not 'fore you go to work. They get rid of you as soon as they smell you.
Tulu: Ain't this a trip! I spend all my day washing my clothes, cleaning my house, now I got to do the same thing at somebody else house.
CANDY LADY: Don't you get tired
Tulu: I'm sick and tired of my brother. He been a whole month. Can't tell him I'm going to the clubs no matter.
CANDY LADY: Don't worry. You know how folks is, he'll be gonna before you know it.
Tulu: The only way I can talk tos a sometimes is in my dreams.
CANDY LADY: That's the best place to keep your mind. That way you can control him.
Tulu: That man ain't thinking about me. He probably laid up with some other woman.
Tulu: You ain't supposed to tell me that! You going to give me a puff of that or what?
CANDY LADY: Get your on or about own! You and jib close?
Tulu: Too close sometimes.
CANDY LADY: Things get too crowded over there, you know where I'm at.
Tulu: Yes, ma'am.
CANDY LADY: Oh, don't call me ma'am. I so old, I bleeds dirt. Come by later on though, I got a little something for you.
Tulu: What happena got for me?
CANDY LADY: A little candy to catch a fly!
CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry, I laughed there!

CAVANAUGH: That was such a good line. Monique and jasmine, thank you so much for that. Tell us about your character.
CANDY LADY: Oh, candy lady. She is a special woman. It's always a challenge to play, in my opinion, an older woman who has this experience that you'ren familiar with, and in particular, this experience of being a hoodoo woman and having this magical -- potions that she mixes. So I love that about her, and I've done a lot of research into hoodoo, to be very honest. And you know to really dive deep into what that world is. So oh, I have had a ball exploring this woman, and finding out what she's about, and especially the magical side.
CAVANAUGH: Did you know what a mojo bag was before this play?
CANDY LADY: I had a semblance about Tonly because I had a really good girlfriend that I went to grad school with, and she was from New Orleans, and she would tell me, and she'd be, like, let's go down to the district. And I'm, like, what are you talking about? And so through her, my friend Tracy, we could talk about this mojo bag. And I'm, like, oh, really. Okay. She's, like, yes they do.
CAVANAUGH: And jasmine, was that a new one on you? Or did you know about the magic side of this play?
RIH2: I had an idea. I grew up in the church and went to Catholic school. So I had always heard about it, because I'm from the south. But it had been in a very kind of roundabout, cautious, you know, that's what they do, and this is what we do kind of thing. So I had definitely heard about it. And then I'm from the miss misdelta, and they talk a lot about it in the blues songs, stealing a nickel out of the moJoe bag, and being gooferred. Upon it's when a trick has been laid down on you, when somebody has put a spell or trick or, you know --
CAVANAUGH: I think I've been gooferred.
CAVANAUGH: Now, nitacky, what were the challenges in this may? The two of them, they sound like they have been doing this forever. So I'm sure that you had a part in making that happen. What have you seen as the biggest challenge in this play for you?
GARRETT: I think the biggest challenge, and it's something that we've been talking about a lot in the last few days is that the -- that the language is really not inspiring more language. The language is an expression of action. So people are doing things, and people are responding to what's being done. Somebody says something to you, and that's sort of the period at the end of the sentence, but the body really carried the information long before the sentence was spoken. And figuring out that. Because it's -- if you look at Tennessee Williams, there's an answer. Somebody says a line, and that's a cue for something else. In this, somebody says a line, and then we move on! That's not the reason why you said your line. The reason you said your line is because of what they did. That's probably the greatest challenge.
CAVANAUGH: And there's a lot of music in this play, but it's not a musical. What is the purpose of the music?
GARRETT: Like I said before, she uses the blues as a way to discover the coming of age of this woman, Tulu. And the time is really important for women in blues. Before this time, men were traveling blues players. Men would hop on -- hobo on trains and hop into city, and that's how the blues spread from the south to the north. Then all of a sudden, you had -- and you had some recording artists like queen Bessie of course. But all of a sudden you had women who were a part of that, playing their guitars and singing their song, and people who were really interested in hearing the woman's voice. And the blues is a way for Tulu to really discover the difference between her youth and her now womanhood.
CAVANAUGH: And I believe that some of the songs written in this are -- I mean, all of them, the playwright wrote the music? That's pretty amazing. Did you all listen to a lot of blues during the rehearsals for this?
CANDY LADY: Oh, definitely. Very much. In fact, I asked Tulu over there to make me some CD -- copies of Memphis MINNIE. That was just one of the artists. The lyrics, they just tell it all, along with the music. So it was so telling for me.
GARRETT: In the same way that the play is sort of written based on action more than word, there's this idea that you can express things in music that you can't speak. And if you think about the lives of these people at the time, and the difficulty and basic survival, and where do you put all that if you're trying to, like, feed your kids or keep your wife? You put it into a song. Because everybody is going through the same thing. Nobody wants to hear it, but they'll hear it in a song.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Nobody wants to see you break down, but you can sing it. Seema, on the website, you say this play is for mature audiences. What might shock the faint of heart?
SUEKO: Well, it is a play about love, and there are some intimate scenes. So I think that's good for audiences to know. Everybody has different levels of comfortable with that. There is an abusive relationship in the play as well. A sexually abusive relationship. And also people, depending on their comfort level, my want to take that into consideration.
CAVANAUGH: I see. But it's an adult play, I mean --
SUEKO: It is, it is. And we're doing a postshow talk on June†10th. Starla Lewis -- will be leading that talk, and it's actually hoodoo love, and the reason why. Sort of the abuse that's in the play, one of the by lines we've said is how do you survive the legacy of slavery? It's this, it's part of the historical context, and in this postshow talk on June†10th, they'll be talking a little bit about that.
CAVANAUGH: One of the reasons you said in the very beginning that you were interested in putting on this play is how -- because Mo'olelo has been reaching out to San Diego's African American community to create interest in this production, and other productions in Mo'olelo. How have you been doing that?
SUEKO: Well, it started last year with Stickfly, and when we were looking for another play by an African American writer, we spoke with leadership at the NAACP, and a few other organizations about this play, and asked them, if we do it, would you be interested in supporting it? And they said yes. That was step No.†1. And we're also partnering with the chocolate voice, and the central San Diego black Chamber of Commerce.
CAVANAUGH: The play runs through July†1st at the tenth avenue theatre in downtown San Diego.