By Daniel Alexander Jones; Music by Samora Pinderhughes, Bobby Halvorson, and Jomama Jones; Directed by Will Davis
Produced by Soho Rep.
Off Broadway, Play with Music
Runs through 11.6.16
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 9.25.16
Daniel Alexander Jones and Jacques Colimon in Duat. Photograph by Julieta Cervantes.
BOTTOM LINE: Daniel Alexander Jones invites spectators on a poetic, spiritual journey filled with obstacles, transformations, and the captivating Jomama Jones.
It’s a tomb, it’s a library, it’s a memory palace: catalogue shelves, old projection slides, yellowing photographs, a record player spinning voices from the past. If Daniel Alexander Jones were to build himself a pyramid, spectators of Duat are getting a preview of its interior. Duat, the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology, is known to be full of monsters, demons, and other extraordinary creatures. However, it is also believed to be a place of transition, an unavoidable path to resurrection, rather than the final destination of the spirit. It is only appropriate that the purgatorial experience would be a personal one. In Jones’ private Duat, the artist pulls threads from his past, recounting moments of significance that contribute to his transformations. As Jones enters, he asks the audiences: “How’s the heart?” And that’s the question Jones asks himself, which prompts him on his journey.
Leading Jones through the realm of the dead are his psychopomps—Jacques Gerald Colimon and Tenzin Gund Morrow. The two appear as if Jones’ young adult and adolescent selves. The three players therefore begin to tell stories of Jones’ childhood: his upbringing in a half-black, half-Italian Catholic family, his experience working at a library which shaped his earliest perception of the world, the role models and personal demons he had growing up, his struggle as a queer black man, and his long-lasting fascination with Egyptian deities. Whenever Jones hesitates, the youngest urges him on: “Confess” the boy repeats, “Confess.“ The trio's motions, as well as the poetry they utter, at times occurs in unison, as if these moments existed in a ceremonious tracing of Jones’ heart line.
And a ceremony indeed it is. More specifically, it's a Weighing of the Heart Ceremony. The tender trinity in the library morphs into a surreal, hallucination-like spectacle as the rest of the ensemble joins on stage as The Scribe (Kaneza Schaal), The Ba (Tenzin), Anubis (Toussaint Jeanlouis), and Ma’at (Stacey Karen Robinson), to deliver a incantation of justice, followed by the song “Supernova”, featuring Tenzin’s gorgeous vocal, bringing the first half of the show to a climactic halt.
The second half of Duat takes place in a classroom, where the final rehearsal of a school pageant is underway. Drama teacher Miss Jones (Jomama Jones, who is Daniel Jones' alter ego) speaks about the origin of pageants—the Abydos Passion Play in Ancient Egypt, which was the celebration of Osiris, the God of Duat. Miss Jones decides the theme of the pageant should be seeds, in honor of Osiris’ resurrection into a green god, and sets the pageant play in George Washington Carver’s lab in Tuskegee, Alabama. The students then each perform a song as an individual seed, with their own purpose. The pageant rehearsal turns into a moving demonstration of the students’ self-discovery, both of the legacy before them, and of the courage they need to move forward.
Duat is a most sincere and ardent confession, delivered with a kaleidoscope of a theatrical magnum opus. Daniel/Jomama Jones does not spend a single moment on stage without being thoroughly captivating. The writing is simply breathtaking, and the satisfyingly extravagant performance reminds one of Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge. Amongst the impressive ensemble, Tenzin Gund Morrow commands the stage with ease beyond his age, convincingly portraying his character as a precocious child. Furthermore, the scenic (Arnulfo Maldonado), lighting (Solomon Weisbard), and props (George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek) designers offer the epitome of theatrical magic, creating not one, not two, but three meticulously crafted layers of reality. Musical director Trevor Bachman, along with an excellent band, is also a strong addition. Duat certainly promises an experience to be remembered, and moreover, to be pondered upon, as the audience exits with seeds of hope planted in their hearts.
(Duat plays at the Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, through November 6, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3 and 7:30, and Sundays at 7:30. Tickets are $35, $65 for premium, and $25 for side seats, and are available at sohorep.org or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information visit sohorep.org.)
Duat is by Daniel Alexander Jones, with new music by Samora Pinderhughes, Bobby Halvorson, and Jomama Jones. Directed by Will Davis. Set Design is by Arnulfo Maldonado. Costume Design is by Oana Botez. Lighting Design is by Solomon Weisbard. Sound Design is by Elisheba Ittoop. Props Masters are George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek. Music Director is Trevor Bachman. Dramaturg is Kyla Searle. Production Stage Manager is Rachel Gross.
The cast is Jacques Colimon, Tenzin Gund-Morrow, Toussaint Jeanlouis, Daniel Alexander Jones, Jomama Jones, Stacey Karen Robinson, and Kaneza Schaal.