By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I was a musical theater baby,” remembers theater director Malika Oyetimein, about growing up in Philadelphia. “I still love musicals.”
But she says, “I found that in high school, I was cast in racially typical roles like ‘the maid,’ and I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I got involved with Philadelphia Young Playwrights. That’s where it began.”
Oyetimein’s latest work as a director, “Hoodoo Love,” written by Katori Hall, comes to Seattle courtesy of the Sound Theater Company in collaboration with the Hansberry Project. It’s a Great Depression story, with a four-strong, all-Black cast, detailing a young runaway on her way to Memphis, a footloose bluesman she meets along the way, a whorehouse madam with a plan of her own, and the runaway’s brother, a Christian missionary eager to head off his wandering sister.
“Hoodoo” refers generally to folk magic among Black Americans, often, though not always, in the American South, and derived from spiritual traditions that the enslaved brought with them from their native West Africa.
As the play goes along the young runaway, Toulou, works hoodoo to win the love of the bluesman, Ace of Spades. But Toulou’s runs afoul of her brother, Jib, a staunch Christian who rejects hoodoo as heathen practice.
Director Oyetimein served as Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Ademide Theatre Ensemble before moving here to study at the University of Washington. She’s logged time with Seattle Repertory Theatre, and she continues to teach acting at the UW.
“From a young age,” reflected the director, “I was into speaking out, I was into the voiceless heard. I was always about changing hearts, affecting people with my work. As far as influences, my father helped me develop my practical focus, and my mother finally convinced me to jump into theater full-time.”
She also credits professor Valerie Curtis-Newton at the University of Washington for “[helping] me really grow and solidify as a director. She gave me the perspective of learning and exploring with the cast during the development of a production.”
Jose Abaoag, publicist for Sound Theatre Company on “Hoodoo Love” and himself a local actor, mused on aspects of the play transcending Black American stories and concerns.
Abaoag, a Filipino who’s worked for Sound Theatre about a year, opined, “I think that, although this is a African American story, that the themes like finding one’s voice and learning from an elder, will appeal to all people and particularly an Asian/Pacific Islander audience. Let me put it this way: Toulou is on her own and is having trouble finding her way and with love of a man. So she seeks the guidance of an elder, who asks her to trust her, [and] employs the old ways to help her. That sounds pretty close to a lot of our stories.”
Oyetimein directed “Hoodoo Love” back in Philadelphia, but she’s proud to return to it with her new skills, and a new vision for a new audience. She calls it a rare example of a play focused on a Black woman, and she aims to direct as many stories as possible, with strong Black female characters.
“It’s 2017,” she elaborated, “and America is abuzz with a new word : resilience. This play is about the tenacity and perseverance of Black women. This play is about survival. Everywhere you look, you see the word resilience.
“It’s an even more important — no not important — relevant concept today. People, white people in particular, are starting to come to the concept.”
“Hoodoo Love” runs through July 30 at the Center Theatre at Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison Street. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit soundtheatrecompany.org/2017-season/hoodoo-love.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.