Metro, Arts, Theatre

‘Black Light’ Dazzles at the OBERON

Walking into the OBERON is like entering a nightclub and concert venue in one black box space. And from Sept. 19 to 29, it played host to the magnetic personality of Jomama Jones and Black Light. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling, reflecting glitz and light erratically on the audience tables at the floor level, the bar in the back, and the mirrored stage. In short, the space does not immediately match the show’s billing as a “spiritual revival for turbulent times.”

Black Light opened (15 minutes late, thanks to lively attendance at the bar) with Jomama Jones, walking through the audience with a blue altar candle, crooning out of the darkness: “What if I told you it’s all going to be alright. But what if I told you, not yet.” For the next 90 minutes, Jomama, her back-up singers (lovingly christened her “Vibrations”), and her band explores this evocative statement through speech and original songs in the style of Prince, Diana Ross, and Tina Turner.

Daniel Alexander Jones’ alter-ego of Jomama Jones has been a crucial part of his performance life since the ’90s. A middle-aged black woman with a smoky voice and a taste for sequins, Jomama is not simply Jones in drag—he considers her an artistic muse to be channeled, not a character to be portrayed. 

In a mixture of song and soliloquy, Jomama Jones shares her childhood in the South with an endearing, lively earnestness. From a humorous anecdote on her fixation with a Prince poster to more sobering reflections on what it means to grow up black in the South, Jomama gives her audience full permission to “feel their feelings.” 

Perhaps influenced by the soulful sounds of the band and the purple haze of the OBERON, the audience is attached to Jomama almost from the start. Her welcome to the “crossroads” may at first seem fantastical, but it becomes clear that Jones’ references to Afromysticsm and black spirituality are rooted in the reality of what it means to be black in America. First, she urges the audience to question themselves: “Am I living witness or a passive observer?”. Then she wonders, wandering through the tables on the floor, sometimes putting a gentle hand on an audience member’s shoulder or pausing to look another in the eye. 

This idea of “witness” is not akin to being a bystander, but has a religious root in African American culture. Witnessing, Jones explains, is taking responsibility for the times we are in. Central to this idea is what Jones calls “the event horizon of a black hole”—the boundary line where nothing can escape the magnetic pull of the black hole. Jones’ analogy refers to the current times, and especially to the “stages of black rage” that every black American experiences, together and alone. 

Perhaps the most striking moment of Jomama’s performance each nice is when the glittering fog of the purple stage lights cut out, replaced with a harsher light. Blinking in the sudden brightness, the audience faces Jomama as equals, not as observers. She gently points out that it’s easy to buy into her message when dazed by flattering stage lights, and urges each audience member to hold hands with a stranger near them while she sings the next piece. Under the harsh lights, Jomama watches the audience connecting, in a tender moment that she describes as the “the supernovas within all of us” colliding. 

With the stage lights back on, Jomama points out parting souvenirs placed on each table: tarot cards personalized to her story. The female figure illustrated there holds a shotgun in one hand, and a flashlight in the other. “Choose,” she urges us, with a final reminder that she fully believes we are equal to our time. 

Featured Image Courtesy of Yazi Farrufino / The OBERON

September 29, 2019