“What if I told you it’s going to be all right? What if I told you not yet?”
It’s this kind of wisdom—sometimes reassuring, sometimes unnerving, but always ominous—that pulses through Black Light, Daniel Alexander Jones’ one-woman mystical cabaret-style show that will run at American Repertory Theater’s OBERON through Sept 29.
The Star of Black Light—and that’s Star with a capital S—is Jomama Jones, an international soul diva (the singular creation and alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones) who has been called here to be with us “at the crossroads,” Following two engagements at Joe’s Pub and a well-received run Off-Broadway, Jones’ celestial wisdom comes in the form of a musical journey that is said to fuse the black American freedom movement, Afromysticism, and goddess mythology with the musical influences of Prince, Sade, Diana Ross, and Tina Turner.
Throughout Black Light, and interspersed with lots of music, Jomama tells two general stories: one about a poster of Prince that lands her and her girlfriends in trouble with a grade school teacher, and the second about her trips down south as a child to visit her Aunt Cleotha, a formidable, mysterious woman with a mangled arm who never seems to sleep. The stories don’t ever really meet—and because of that the evening is somewhat less obviously satisfying than it might be—but Black Light is best experienced if you think of it as a vibe rather than a play with a solid throughline. The stories ramble and frequently get bogged down by too many words, which makes it hard to always get lost in the moment, but there are plenty of magical moments, all of which add up to a theatrical event that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
There were several audience members around me at Friday’s press opening that were both visibly and audibly overcome by some of the more tender moments in the show. Despite Black Light being all about Jomama—and let’s face it, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her—it really is the communal experience of the piece that ended up carrying the most weight, the feeling that we were all locked together in this dark nightclub, all hurtling through space toward—or away—from the same things.
The original songs (written by Jones along with Bobby Halvorson, Laura Jean Anderson, Dylan Meek, and Josh Quat) are surprisingly forgettable given the musical influences that they are said to be inspired by. The most successful moments in the show—musical or otherwise—are the quietest ones, such as when Jones recounts the night she joined Aunt Cleotha and her shotgun on the porch at 2 am and learned the truth about what happened to her mangled arm.
Whether we learn something from Jomama or whether we are just generally better for having been in her presence is not all that clear. Despite Black Light’s slippery, just-out-of-reach nature, it is a captivating tonic for our time. And just as Aunt Cleotha taught Jomama all those years ago on her front porch, we, too, learn that if we stare into the dark for long enough, all sorts of things will be revealed.
BLACKLIGHT. THROUGH 9.29 AT OBERON, 2 ARROW ST., CAMBRIDGE. AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.COM