Last night, I hopped off the E train in SoHo and was greeted by a slap directly to the forehead by Old Man Winter. As my brain crystallized and froze over, I whispered a prayer for my boy Kenyon Farrow. The prayer went something like this:
"Dear Baby Jesus, please let this show be good tonight. I know the ticket is free. And I know I would walk across lava to get some face time with Kenyon. But I have lost three toes due to this arctic air, and if this show ain't no good, I am going to chew off three of Kenyon's and sew them on my feet. Hey Glory. Hallelujah. Amen."
I walked into the SoHo Repertory Theater, into a narrow hallway, which was packed on both sides by bundled up theater-goers. I was greeted by an adorable Asian woman that looked like she'd been molested by Ziggy Stardust. At the same time, I saw Kenyon, Asian Ziggy gave us a card on which to write a wish, and Kenyon and I sat down to obey her interstellar command.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed the sign for the bar, and Kenyon noticed the sign for the bathroom (he is much more evolved than I am). A few moments later, we were climbing the stairs and about to grab our seats, when I grabbed Kenyon and said, "I might be tripping, but I am fairly certain that the gentleman seated in the waiting area is Djola Branner, a friend of mine from Minneapolis that teaches in Amherst, MA."
It had been a few years since I'd seen Djola, so I erred on the side of not feeling foolish by screaming his name and having it turn out not to be him. Kenyon and I went to find our seats, and who should appear but my friends Christian and Mark. Immediately, my expectations for the show were raised. Kenyon has impeccable taste, but Christian has flawless taste. Between the two, I was expecting this performer to get up on stage and shoot rainbows out of her eyebrows.
Waiting for the show to begin, Kenyon and I ended up in the last row (in a very small theater, so the view was perfect), and into the theater walks the possibly Djola Branner. Well, the only open seats were right next to me, and as the possible Djola climbed over me, I squinted at him and said, "Ain't you Djola?" He looked at me a little startled and said, "Yes, I'm Djola." And I said, "Lord it's Brandon from Minneapolis."
Right there we had ourselves a reunion. It was fantastic. Djola thought I was still living in Oakland, and I had to let him know that I'd been in NYC for almost two years (way to keep up, Djola). We loved up on each other for a minute, and then the show started (beforehand, I found out that Djola knew the performer, who had spent some time in Minneapolis as well).
From the minute the lights dimmed and the curtains were drawn back, I knew that I was about to be changed for good.
Onto the stage walked Jomama Jones and the Peaches. I had to rub my eyes, and I almost made a collect call to Heaven, because when Jomama took the stage I thought, for a minute, that Miss Lena Horne had faked her own death and was now doing independent theater in lower Manhattan.
Jomama Jones, a character created and lived by Daniel Alexander Jones, was everything that I didn't know I needed. Combining original music, dance, storytelling, theater, lots of campy drama, and beautifully poignant moments, Jomama Jones took us on a journey that was never overtly anything but was subversively genderqueer, all about liberation for people of color, woman powerful, and responsibly communal. It would have been easy for this show to bludgeon the audience, instead, it gently and firmly carried the audience along with it, waking up the best in each of us, and helping us to see each other as a united community.,
Jomama Jones is the best in everyone of us.
Helga Davis and Sonja Perryman were the primary backup vocalists and co-performers along with Jomama, and let me tell you that when these women sang NOTHING else existed in my world. Helga has one of those voices that is vaguely reminiscent of Tina Turner but only in the way that it crosses over into the "traditionally" masculine, snatches you up by the back of your neck, and makes you call out to Jesus. And Sonja's voice was soul sexy smooth, like warm honey on cornbread and fresh maple syrup straight out of the boiler. These women not only sang, they LIVED.
It was a blessing to see Jomama Jones last night and to experience the beauty of that character, the storytelling, and the amazing cast and musicians that made it all come alive. For Tamar-kali and for Jomama Jones, I owe Kenyon Farrow a deep debt.
Thank you Jomama (Daniel), Sonja, Helga, and the rest of the cast. You have a forever fan right here. And how wonderful to get to share the show with an audience that included new and old friends. One love y'all.