Daniel Alexander Jones as Jomama Jones, at Joe's Pub through March 27. | JOAN MARCUS
BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE | With a combination of New Age ideas, Southern Gothic storytelling, and supernova star power, Jomama Jones is blazing through Joe’s Pub with a new show, “Black Light.”
Jones is the female alter ego of playwright and musician Daniel Alexander Jones, and the sensitive show weaves together a variety of stories and 12 exquisite songs from Jomama’s life. The wide-ranging topics include her frenemy in high school, a fascination with science, and memories of her Aunt Cleotha who guarded the house at night from the porch so Jomama and the rest of the family could sleep. Particularly moving are Jomama’s tales of her summers in the South in the middle of the last century and her youthful impressions of a distant and hard Cleotha. Her aunt had seen murderous racial violence first-hand, and she finally tells the young Jomama the reason she keeps watch is because “they are always out there.” It’s a chilling, transformative moment for the character.
Jomama deftly balances the darkness with more lighthearted stories and a joy in life that is infectious and endearing. The recurring theme of the piece is the need for each of us to be a witness in our lives, which Jomama defines not as a passive act but as an engaged presence in the world and its events — in all shades of light and dark. As the story evolves, it comes as no surprise that the two totems bequeathed to Jomama from Cleotha are a flashlight (what she tellingly calls “an electric torch”) and a shotgun.
Jomama’s stories are characterized by lyrical prose and evocative images. She draws us in with language and imagery and their clarity and passion touch the heart. What the black light reveals is magical.
And then there are the songs. There are 12 in all, in somewhat varying styles ranging from rock and funk to homages to Prince, one of Jomama’s inspirations that becomes the crux of one of the show’s more hilarious passages.
Jones as Jomama is a sensational performer with a stunning voice and range and the ability to imbue each song with just the right feeling. Her backup performers — Trevor Bachman and Vuyo Sotashe — are spectacular singers and great foils for Jomama as she disappears and reappears in a series of five glittering outfits. The exceptional four-person band — including Josh Quat on guitar, Sean Dixon on drums, Tariq Al-Sabir on piano, and Michelle Marie Osbourne on bass — are fully integrated into the proceedings. While Jomama is definitely the star, the planets in her orbit are stellar as well.
As Cleotha explains, “You look into the dark, all manner of things will be revealed.” In “Black Light” what is revealed is life in all its hues, the grim and the glorious. In the end, we come back to the question that opens the show, “What if I told you it was going to be all right?” Jomama gives us hope that that even in these turbulent and harrowing times that might, in fact, be truth.
BLACK LIGHT | Joe’s Pub, inside the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., btwn. E. Fourth St. & Astor Pl. | Through Mar. 25: Wed.-Sun. at 7 p.m. | $45, plus food & drink minimum at joespub.publictheater.org or 212-967-7555 | Ninety mins., no intermission