Backstage: African Continuum looks ahead with upcoming 'The Mojo and the Sayso'

UPCOMING: Lolita-Marie and Raymond Caldwell in "Mojo."
UPCOMING: Lolita-Marie and Raymond Caldwell in "Mojo." (Valerie Russell)
By Jane Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three years after a financial crunch nearly shut it down, African Continuum Theatre Company continues to reassert itself, both as a professional troupe and a community outreach organization that brings theater training to people struggling to make their way in the world.

"We are doing what I hoped we would be doing and beyond that," says JoAnn Williams, African Continuum's executive director. She cites a roster of projects for the company's 15th season, including last September's Fresh Flavas readings of new works, and the upcoming production of the lyrical drama "The Mojo and the Sayso," by Aishah Rahman, running Friday through Sunday at the Busboys and Poets located at Fifth and K streets NW.

At the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the company will participate in Intersections: A New America Arts Festival from Feb. 25 to March 13. For the festival, it will co-produce with Adventure Theatre the world premiere of "Mirandy and Brother Wind," a musical based on the children's book by Patricia C. McKissack. In May, African Continuum will do Pearl Cleage's "Blues for an Alabama Sky" at the Atlas.

The company's outreach program in Ward 6, called Off the Circuit, works with StriveDC, a nonprofit organization that helps people get their GEDs and teaches them the skills needed to enter the workforce.

"The Mojo and the Sayso" was written in the late 1980s by Rahman, a professor at Brown University. The play is a lyrical, realist drama about a family dealing with the loss of an innocent child to street violence. The mother has joined a cultlike church; the father works obsessively on rebuilding a car -- in the living room. Jacqueline E. Lawton, a playwright ("Anna K") and theater professor at UDC and Montgomery College is directing "Mojo." She says she's reveling in Rahman's language. (An example: The bereft father tells his wife, "There are nights when I see myself all the way to my bones. Check out every corner of myself and feel strong about me. But come the morning . . . I look at you and the doubt I see in you makes me guilty.")

Lawton says she's asking her cast to heighten the already fraught lines "to really accentuate how beautiful the language is, how lyrical the language is, and because of the audience that we're targeting." She says: "We want to really be able to capture what right now is the language of young people . . . a lot of it is hip-hop and spoken-word poetry. That's what's really exciting."

Follow spot

Theater buffs who like to get back to the source can check out "Green Grow the Lilacs," the play by Native American dramatist Lynn Riggs that premiered on Broadway in 1931 and became the inspiration for Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" The Masqueraders drama troupe from the U.S. Naval Academy will perform "Lilacs" on Nov. 17 and 18 at the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall. Visit

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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