‘Hoodoo Love’ filled with ups and downs

When “Hoodoo Love” was finished, reactions were split among those in the packed house. Many in the overflow crowd stood and cheered. Others, like myself, remained seated with glum expressions.

“Hoodoo Love” did have elements to cheer about. Three of the four cast members had opportunities to show off their singing skills, dresses and outfits by Katly Kettles that suited an early ‘30s style and frequent sound effects were authentic. The cast also made a complex and emotional story come alive with only a sparsely furnished set and few props.

It was the story that kept me from any smiling. I did not find brutish men, dismal lives in a dismal era, references to slavery, killing one’s own child, incest and rape much to hail. To me, “Hoodoo Love” was hard to love.

The first act started with sounds of lovemaking coming from a completely dark stage. Seventy minutes later, it ended with a simulated rape that was fully illuminated. After a 25-minute intermission, the halfhour second act revealed an unwanted child, an unwanted murder and an unwanted breaking of a guitar — the latter a sudden accident that was handled calmly by Ace of Spades, played by Earl Boyd Jr.

Boyd was best when he played harmonica, sang or strummed a guitar. Camille Thomas as TouLou offered sweet singing and an image of a young woman whose actions were rarely sweet. Thomas was convincing and strong as the central character who was always a strong woman.

Ndegwa McCloud’s character, Jib, never sang, but his preacher man bellows proved he had the strongest voice of all. His ability to project Jib’s dark side was also impressive.

Rose Cooper played Candylady — a woman who had potions and curses for everything from love to aborting a child. Candylady was the most likeable character in “Hoodoo Love.” Her occasional singing parts, smile and comical insults were delightful.

The play, directed by Rico Bruce Wade, was accurately cast. It also made sense for Boyd Jr. — who is a professional blues musician — to play Ace, who was just that.

Opening night revealed noticeable stumbles during lengthy lines. Flaws like a table coming apart and backstage noises will surely be corrected. Women with visible tattoos and a guitar with electronics were the continuity errors. Those mistakes, along with sex acts performed with clothing and an awkward scene with an imaginary baby, may be harder to fix.

I applaud Ixion for taking on an edgy and all-black production. “Hoodoo Love” was thought-provoking and engaging. It was a risky and daring undertaking. For me, the play that took place during the Great Depression was mostly, greatly depressing.

Hoodoo Love Through Sunday, Sept. 10

The Robin Theatre, 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing. Tickets start at $10. ixionesnsemble@gmail.com (989) 878-1810