by Jess Hoffman

The word “love” in the title Hoodoo Love might have some theatergoers mistakenly believing that it is a romantic play. This certainly crossed my mind when I went to see the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York’s production at The Rep, as I was unfamiliar with the play but have exceptionally low patience for romance and sentimentality. Luckily for me, Hoodoo Love is anything but sentimental. It is instead a heartbreaking story about a would-be blues singer in depression-era Memphis named Toulou, who turns to Hoodoo magic to try to hold the attention of her musician boyfriend. 

While the action of the play does focus on Toulou’s romantic relationship, this is not a romantic play. Rather it is a character-driven exploration of culture, society, and identity. The play touches on broad themes ranging from love to slavery to African American history to magic. But in my estimation, Hoodoo Love is first and foremost about womens’ power in relationships and in society–and the lengths that women will go to to take and hold such power.

When the play begins, the lights come up on a woman (who we will later learn is named Candy Lady) holding a baby. This simple and everyday moment will carry more and more weight as the play progresses. Our protagonist Toulou, played by Q’ubilah Sales soon enters and we are immediately treated to Sales’s incredible singing voice. It is a testament to Sales that in the very next scene, which takes one year previously, she is able to convincingly feign a mediocre singing voice.

Sales and two of her co-stars, Josy Smith (as Toulou’s neighbor and Hoodoo practitioner Candy Lady) and Alexander Heck (as Toulou’s renegade love interest Ace of Spades) bring lifelike depth and multi-dimensionality to their respective characters. Unfortunately Preston Edmund’s portrayal of Toulou’s preacher brother Jib falls short of the high bar set by the other actors. Edmund certainly has stage presence, but his character feels a bit tropey and shallow compared to everyone else in the show. Nevertheless the four characters come together with excellent chemistry and play well off of one another. The scenes of intimate friendship between Toulou and Candy Lady are particularly heartwarming.

The build-up to the climactic scene at the end of the first act would have been excellent were it not for a curtain-speech trigger warning that bordered on a spoiler. In light of this pre-show knowledge, however, some of the foreshadowing comes off as quite heavy-handed. The build up to the climactic scene of Act 2, on the other hand, is well-done and delivers an effective gut-punch at the end of a gritty story about heartbreak, disappointment, and resilience.

The artistically cluttered set is very appropriate for the cramped, urban setting of the play; and the actors move deftly around the clutter in even the most active and fast-paced scenes. The only part of the set that interrupts the show’s flow are the black draperies to one side of the stage that Candy Lady repeatedly has to duck to enter and exit from. But I appreciate the design choice of fashioning a low-hanging branch over that exit to make all of Candy Lady’s ducking and weaving seem necessary and believable.

The costumes are aesthetically excellent, though perhaps a bit too elaborate for the number of quick costume changes that the play calls for. Many of the scene transitions took nearly the whole length of a blues song to complete. Luckily the production chose such an excellent soundtrack that I was quite content to listen to the music and wait for the scene change. Sound designer Chad Reid did an excellent job in filling these gaps with highly enjoyable and setting-appropriate music.

All in all, BTTUNY’s production of Hoodoo Love at the Rep is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a young woman learning how to live life on her own terms, take control of her place in the world, and grapple with Candy Lady’s advice that “You ain’t always gotta play with the cards you dealt.” I recommend this show to theatergoers who are ready for a heavy show that will make them reflect on hard truths and feel some challenging emotions. But be warned: this is definitely not a love story. 

Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York presents Hoodoo Love by Katori Hall, directed and produced by Jean-Remy Monnay, runs from June 1-11, 2023, at the Rep, 251 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12207. Assistant Director: Kendra L. Neal. Production Stage Manager: Rose Biggerstaff. Lightboard operator: Willie Davis Short V. Soundboard operators: Willie David Short V and Kendra L. Neal. Production assistants: Sheilah London-Miller and Angelique Powell. Cast: Q’ubilah Sales as Toulou, Josy Smith as Candy Lady, Alexander Heck as Ace of Spades, Preston Edmunds as Jib. Set concept and construction by Jean-Remy Monnay and Mariah Sanford-White. Costumes, hair, and makeup by Sheilah London-Miller. Set decoration and props tech by Sheilah London-Miller. Intimacy choreography by Yvonne Perry. Lighting design by Kate Kern. Sound design by Chad Reid. Musical direction by Jaime Cochran. Guitar arrangements by Samuel Evans. Harmonica by Michael LaPorte.

Performance dates are Thursday-Sunday, June 1-11. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday curtains are at 7:30pm and Sundays are at 4:00 pm. Tickets are $22.50, student and senior tickets are $17.50. Runs approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Contains explicit language, sex, sexual assault, descriptions of slavery, and strobe lights. Recommended for ages 15+. Tickets are available online at, by phone at 518-346-6204, or at the door for any performance. For more information, visit, email, or call 518-833-2621

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