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The Wizard of Hip (Or When in Doubt Slam Dunk) ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
August 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip – Photo credit Chris Banks

Getting schooled by Thomas W. Jones II, aka “Afro Joe”, is a lesson in growing up Black, Catholic, and urban hip – “sticky leg” and all.  Jones is a poet with a fusillade style of comedic delivery that gets under your skin with its beat-bopping rhythms and déjà vu tales of adolescence.  It’s a story about being Black in modern culture that transcends Blackness and goes to the heart of teen angst and family dynamics.  Jones is already cool.  At 60+ he’s still got all the moves including a dip in the hip (he assures us it’s not about hip replacement), when he’s demonstrating the art of getting the girl.  Or, at least, trying to get the girl, which doesn’t go well for Jones as a teenager until he realizes that making a well-rehearsed, slow-rolling, wordless entrance into a dance club isn’t at all the kind of approach that his target has in mind.  “You enter on an angle,’ he advises, twisting his agile frame into a slow-walking, undulating gait.  After a few rookie moves in which the women rebuff his advances, he switches gears and tries a little tenderness.  Cue the adoring girl.

Jones and his two, talented singer/actor sidekicks, Jasmine Eileen Coles as Lady Doo Wop 1 and Kanysha Williams as Lady Doo Wop 2, blast out street-funky, free-style, free-verse poetry filled with the pain and glory of growing up and growing cool in Queens, New York.  They dance, slide and do the funky chicken to James Brown, Sidney Poitier and other Black towers of power from the 1950’s rock n’ roll era as archival photos of the period, including Dr. J and Willie Mays, are projected behind them.

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip – Photo credit Chris Banks

Filling the black box stage, the indefatigable Jones peels off in warp speed with riffs on his youth.  One episodic piece delves into the sanctity of mamas and papas, as in “don’t talk about my mama”, a multi-character piece in which he is pitted against street toughs while defending his mother’s honor.  In it he goes from getting beat up (he’s a genius at morphing into two or more characters at once) to slip sliding off in dishonor with a panoply of excuses to go home – homework, dinner, mow the lawn.

In fact, “mow the lawn” becomes a particularly notable euphemism in the troubles he has with his father (whom Jones also plays).  The father figure is seen as a model of ineptitude and intransigence – forever diverting punitive decisions back onto mama while urging his son to step up his game and be a man.  This impossible balance of constantly maintaining peer-pressure hipsterness while trying to score with the ladies, is what keeps our hero rocked back on his heels as he deciphers what everyone wants and where he fits in.  Because in the gospel of Cool with a capital ‘C’, “You gotta be John Wayne in a Shirley Temple world.”

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip – Photo credit Chris Banks

Jones is familiar to MetroStage as writer, director and choreographer on Three Sistahs, Ladies Swing the Blues and many other original productions that had their premieres here.  He’s also known for his performances at Studio Theatre and more recently at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Two veteran musicians keep pace with Jones high energy.  On keyboards is William Knowles, known to MetroStage aficionados as Music Director for his work on the Helen Hayes’ award-winning Cool Papa’s Party as well as Three Sistahs, Blues in the Night, Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song, Blackberry Daze and more.  Knowles also provides original music to syncopate Jones’ kinetic style.  Keeping the backbeat is Greg Holloway on drums – a staple of many of MetroStage’s original productions.

See it, if you want to keep your cool.

Through September 17th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

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