Jook by Glenn Marais and Todd Phillips
Jook is the story of Isaiah Johnson, a gifted blues musician with the voice of an angel and the fire of a demon inside a tormented soul that desires a life bigger than the southern cage of a sharecropping plantation in Mississippi. It is the story of the American Dream and one of the greatest stories, that has never been told, the great migration.
Isaiah is conflicted and torn between a life on the plantation with the family he loves and the life that awaits along the railway lines to the north and the city of Chicago, the glittering jewel that enticed his father who had made the journey in 1919. Chicago and the race riot in the summer of 1919, broke his father’s spirit in more ways than the bats and bottles that broke his body.
Isaiah is determined to follow his own path, despite the fear and pain his father puts onto to him. Isaiah’s story is an American one, of families and their dreams, that speaks even louder now amidst the backdrop of racism in the 21st century, that ugly hydra that just doesn’t seem to die. Jook is the story of the blues, the most powerful music in the world and a young man and his dreams.
Keywords: Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, Blues, Plantation Life, Slavery, Mississippi, Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess
Genre: Musical Drama
Run time: 120 minutes
Suitable for students 16+
Content notes: There are scenes and language that depict the harsh realities of plantation life in the deep South in that era, including a whipping scene, a hanging, and discussions of sexual abuse. There is a level of racism depicted, including racial slurs that can be disturbing to some audiences. The scenes and language are central to the message of the play and are not gratuitous.
Cast size: 10 actors
Male roles: 7
Female roles: 3
Musician roles: 6
Casting note: The main characters in JOOK would require a level of musicality able to authentically perform music in the Delta Blues style with Gospel influences. The cast would need to accurately represent the racial demographic of Black Americans. There are some minor roles that can be doubled to reduce the cast size. There are roles for white characters and a mix of age and gender that encompass a multi-generational family.
"Jook" title art by Abby Reynolds.