Love is a wonderful thing. It teaches us many lessons in sometimes a very painful way. In the play “Hoodoo Love” by award-winning playwright, Katori Hall, the pain of love has life altering consequences. Set in the 1930’s Depression in Memphis, Tennessee, “Hoodoo Love” is about a fiery young woman named Toulou who runs away from her Mississippi home to pursue her dreams of becoming a blues singer. In this Hard Bargain Players production, Ivana Alexander brings Toulou to life and shares with us why playing Toulou felt like going home.
Tell us about Toulou.
Toulou flees to Memphis from her home in the cotton fields of 1930s Mississippi to pursue her dream of becoming a blues singer. She meets a very charming traveling blues man, the notorious Ace of Spades, and falls madly in love. Ace likes to love them and leave them, but Toulou, has other plans for him. Enlisting the help of The Candylady (the local Hoodoo Madame), Toulou casts a spell for his love, hoping that he can make all of her dreams come true!
How did you prepare for the part of Toulou?
Wow, though I’d like to say I spent weeks and months in a formal preparation process, I can’t. So much of Toulou is in me already that my process flowed naturally in many ways. Most specifically, having been born and raised in the deep South and brought up around the blues and jazz culture in Louisiana really provided a strong reference for me to draw from. The dialect, the music, the small town girl with the big dream….these are as much a part of me as they are a part of Toulou.
How does she evolve in the play?
So much of Toulou’s journey involves the idea that she needs a man to help accomplish anything she desires, including her most cherished dream of becoming a blues singer. However, over the course of the play, she learns to question this belief and as a result finds her own independence and her own voice.
Why do you think Toulou couldn’t see that Ace of Spade really loved her?
Every man that Toulou had known, from her Daddy to her brother Jib, had been as she sings “sloppy” with her heart, and she couldn’t understand Ace’s love because she had never known true love from the men in her life.
Jib is a hypocrite who attempts to use religion to judge and condemn the choices and behavior of those of around him while failing to ever look in the mirror himself.
Describe the relationship between Toulou and Jib.
Jib is Toulou’s older brother who is extremely over-protective and over-bearing. They were very close growing up, but they have grown distant, as time has progressed. Their relationship is fraught with unresolved emotions and these emotions are certainly brought to life in their scenes together.
Why did Toulou leave her baby girl with Candylady?
Toulou was determined to sing her songs as she would say, and leaving her baby with Candylady was a way for her to have her dream, while knowing that her child would be safe. It also prevented her from carrying (literally) the pain of Ace’s death with her on her blues journey.
What was the most challenging aspect? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of the show has been mastering the emotional arc of Toulou’s character. She experiences some intense highs and gut-wrenching lows while practically never leaving the stage, and she also has to convey strong emotions during her songs as well. It is a dream role for these reasons, but to get that arc just right night after night takes a great deal of stamina and focus. The most rewarding aspect of the show has been getting to work with my immensely talented and gracious castmates. Their level of professionalism and skill challenged me in the best way and helped me grow as an actress.
What is your favorite part of the play and why?
My favorite part of the play is when Toulou sings her final song, “Gotta Catch That Train”. After all she has been through, this song is the embodiment of her new found independence. This is when she has finally found her voice and the strength to embrace it.