Constructed in three parts, the first part of Jones’ memoir-meets-manifest-destiny is an enchanting origin story that takes place in a mystical library that holds an archive of Jones’ life (set design by Arnulfo Maldonado). Though this portion of the story is filled with tidbits of information from his childhood and adolescence, the focus is on the story of the creation of his famous and renowned alter ego, Jomama Jones, and the book he discovered as a teen that aided in her creation (more on that later).
With his very first moment on stage, Jones–in his first of two incarnations of the evening–turns to face the audience and asks the stirring question, “How is your heart?” And with this clear breaking of the fourth wall, Jones establishes an intimate and inviting relationship with the crowd, one that beckons transparency and the truth in the telling of his unapologetic tale. Jones narrates the entire first part of his play, and is aided by two actors (Tenzin Gund-Morrow, and Jacques Gerard Colimon) who–in the retelling of Jones’ childhood–alternate between playing a pair of mystical companions, and physical representations of his younger brother and himself, respectively. Moments of humor, poignancy, and sheer joy are scattered about between musical interludes, well-constructed monologues, and solid performances from the trio of performers featured in Jones’ Part 1.
During his adolescence, Jones discovered the ancient Egyptian text, The Book of the Dead, and through this learned of the Duat, the Egyptian term for “the realm of the dead.” This discovery is the driving force behind second part of the show, a conceptual presentation of Egyptian text by means of an interpretive and extravagant piece of theater. Garbed in costumes characteristic of ancient Egyptian gods (this scene is just one example of Oana Botez’s diverse and beautiful costume design), actors storm about the stage shouting highly-stylized text as the lights flash aggressively, and the report of a thunderstorm boom throughout the house in Elisheba Ittoop’s sound design. Powerful and jarring, the contrast between Parts 1 and 2 leaves the crowd filled with intrigue as the house falls to black before the first and only intermission.
If Parts 1 and 2 are to be considered the stones upon which Jomama Jones was built, then the second act–Part 3 of Jones’ magnum opus–is the culmination of Jones’ past and inspirations; a no-punches-pulled presentation of his alter-ego in all her glory. Taking place in a pseudo-classroom of sorts, the final portion of Jones’ creation story has Jomama Jones helping a group of her students to prepare for a school pageant. Featuring the full ensemble of actors seen throughout the first half of the evening, Part 3 is a full-on presentation of the diverse and impressive talents of each of the show’s actors. Featuring multiple musical numbers (including new music by Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes, Bobby Halvorson and Jomama Jones) that dip into a various different genres, some of the performances include solo dance acts, powerful soul songs, and even Def Jam-style spoken poetry, in the lead up to a flower-power inspired group number to ensure the audience leaves the theater dancing into the streets.
Directed by Will Davis, Duat is a powerful example of the dynamism of collaboration and personal inspiration. Distinctly unique and featuring a young and effervescent ensemble of actors, in Duat Daniel Alexander Jones has created a wonderful homage to his alter-ego and life in the form of a memorable and rousing piece of theater.
Duat (through November 6, 2016)
The Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.sohorep.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission