Thursday, February 9, 2017

Black Light at Penumbra Theatre

Black Light: A Soulful Embrace of Life and Love is a unique theatrical event that feels more like a gathering than a performance. Through music and stories, Jomama Jones acknowledges the darkness of the present moment and encourages strength for the struggles to come.
Black Light is not to be missed, especially if you are feeling disheartened by current events. Jomama Jones is here to tell us that we will get through these times together.

Jomama's stories of her high school science classes lead into discussion of black holes and event horizons as well as a vivid definition of a penumbra, in honor of the theater's namesake. (A penumbra is the light that shines around an object that blocks the light, as in an eclipse. She explains it much more beautifully.) Tales of childhood visits to family in the South become a discovery of her Aunt Cleotha's past and present lives as a witness for God. She engages the audience directly, but not in an overwhelming way, asking for responses and returning to those people later.
Helga Davis, Jomama Jones, and Trevor Bachman
Photos by Angela Jimenez for Penumbra Theatre

These stories introduce upbeat and empowering original music with songs (written by Jones, Bobby Halvorson, and Dylan Meek) that reflect Jomama's history as a "soulsonic superstar" and reminded me of the pop/R&B I heard on the radio as a child of the '70s. The strong musical ensemble includes musical director Samora Pinderhughes on piano, and local musicians Benjamin James Kelly on bass, Matt Edlund on drums, and Geoff LeCrone (alternating with Alexander Kosak) on guitar, plus vocalists Helga Davis and Trevor Bachman. There isn't a song list in the program, but the music was from her newest CD, Flowering. There was even a song dedicated to Prince,

Throughout, Jomama Jones is a thoroughly engaging, wonderful and wise presence. She is very funny, and although I was toward the back of the theater, I felt that she was speaking directly to me. Spending time in her presence was like making a new friend, one who finds life to be challenging, beautiful, and funny, even amidst dark times, and who reminds us that all we really have in this world is each other.

Jomama Jones, Trevor Bachman
Photos by Angela Jimenez for Penumbra Theatre
Daniel Alexander Jones, who created and embodies Jomama, has a long history with Penumbra and the Twin Cities, dating back to Penumbra's 1994 premiere of Shay Youngblood's Talking Bones. Also a core member of the Playwright's Center and a company member of both Penumbra and Pillsbury House theaters, Jones last brought Jomama to the Pillsbury House stage in 2011, which I wish I had seen. Prior to the all-too-brief Penumbra run (through February 17), Black Light was performed at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York.

For more information on this fascinating performer, check out her Facebook page, or her YouTube channel, which include several videos including the song "Joy," her tribute to Prince. And Penumbra's webpage for the show includes a video of Jones captivating her audience in a previous show.

And a shoutout to Jones for creating a character who, in high school, could do anything and everything well, but who was especially drawn to science. A wonderful role model for any girl. Or boy. Or anyone who is otherwise defined.