“The Mojo and The Sayso,” written by Aishah Rahman and directed by Jessica Lanius, is a captivating play about love and loss. This play follows a mourning family whose son is shot by a local police officer. This story about police brutality does an amazing job at exploring how this kind of state of violence affects people personally. Many people don’t know how it feels to lose a child to this kind of violence, but this play gives us a safe space to cry, heal and relate to this family. When asked about the significance of the title, Jessica Lanius explained,
“...the Mojo; there’s a family trying to find their way back out of the tragedy, everyone is trying to find their mojo, a connection to self. The father even talks to the son about finding the mojo. And the Sayso is the truth. So now after this terrible event has occurred, the family has to find the mojo and if you can find your mojo you can find the sayso; the truth will set you free.”
This play begins with a chilling distillation of each character on stage set in the family’s living room. Each character starts to move their bodies simultaneously in very slow motion. Then the entire stage goes black and lights up again for the play to commence. The living-room space includes a piano, couches, lamps and a car. The car acts as a very important motif in the play. Each character in this story is balancing how to deal with their emotions after such a devastating tragedy. The mother, played by Marvette Knight, finds hope in her church. The father, played by Gavin Lawrence, copes by working on his car. And the eldest son, who is played by Isayah Phillips, struggles with his identity after losing his younger brother.
The story begins with just the mother and father, Awilda and Acts. As Awilda is getting ready for church, the couple starts to bicker over various topics. The mother has found comfort in remembering her son as she reinforces her son’s memory through conversation with her husband. This moment is where the play starts to open up the character’s emotions to the audience. Acts, unlike his wife, makes it clear that he doesn’t want to talk about the night his son was killed or anything in relation to it. This defiance sparks a few heavy arguments between the two characters. Many of the arguments between Awilda and Acts become very heated, but the writer of this play was able to really capture the pain and love that co-exists within both characters. Even when Acts releases his anger by breaking all the windows in the living room, it is hard to be upset or scared of him; instead, his actions and words give off a sense of pain and helplessness. The author depicts this family in a way that allows them to vent, be angry, mournful and black all at the same time. The emotions continue when the son, Blood, is introduced. Blood is a vulnerable young adult who is hurt and confused. He slowly learns how to blend back in with his family after dealing with personal obstacles. This transition from losing a loved one is difficult for every member of the family. Eventually, this broken family learns to band together, trust one another and believe in the mojo.
The beautiful language used throughout this play allows for each character to express themselves and their purpose seamlessly. Aishah Rahman poetically brings together this family after disappointment and heartbreak. According to Lanius, the play’s director, “By using poetry rather than straight up language, the author puts us in a different place...the author finds the rhythm of this family. The play is a is very complex and the language adds layers.” Even though all four characters work great with each other, the monologues throughout this play are magnificent. It was interesting to see how the play would progress with only four characters, but each person gave a necessary perspective. Lanius felt that “... the author wanted to focus on the heart of the family... It was so smart to just open the living room door to the audience and not pay so much attention to the trial and the acquittal of the officer.” The focus of this play was extremely clear. The narrative of this family becomes very important, because it is one of the few stories that involves police brutality that focuses solely on the aftermath of the shooting, the family of the deceased and the healing processes that are involved after such a horrible event.
Every person who walks away from this play will feel a connection to this family. It was incredibly captivating and relatable in more ways than one. Most people have experienced some sort of pain with their family and this play successfully showcases that emotion, while also providing hope for the characters of the play and the audience members.