-by Brenda Hillegas
Feature photo of Sydney Banks and Sean Close by Daniel Kontz
Tap dancing! Step shows! Physical comedy! Lots of laughs!
You’ll have a great time in the audience of TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever at Theatre Horizon through March 20th. I’ve never seen such an involved group of theatre goers- clapping, cheering, rooting for the protagonist, booing and cringing at the antagonist. Sounds like a fun show, right? It was…at times. But beneath the laughs and funny lines, there’s a much deeper message; one that’s been building for centuries and really needs to be, as the titular Sally says, unpacked and it will get ugly.
In the regional premiere of this James Ijames play, Thomas Jefferson “TJ” (played by Sean Close) and Sally Hemings (Sydney Banks) are reimaged as a dean and student at the Commonwealth of Virginia University. The Black students hate the fact that the campus buildings are named after slave-owners and one student in particular, Harold (Devon Sinclair), wants the name and the statues torn down. The students of his generation never asked to be tied to this history of the South. Dean TJ, a white male, challenges Harold throughout the show, saying his activism won’t matter. The two of them, in a satirical Looney Tune fashion, bring a lot of chuckles from the audience. Funny until someone gets brutally attacked, that is.
At the same time, we see Dean TJ’s work relationship with Sally (who is hired as his research assistant) quickly deteriorate as he continues to sexually harass and stalk her. It may seem hilarious as he shows up in costume to find her at a party or in a cringe-worthy scene where he sends unsolicited photos via text, but deep down we know what he is doing is not okay. Yet, it still happens and continues to happen. We also know how many times people like Dean TJ get away with it anyway. Sally’s sorority sisters and uber-happy campus tour guides, Annette (Adaeze Nwoko) and Pam (Noelle Diane Johnson) pop into many scenes to speak directly to the audience and throw facts at us that make us think hard about the message of the play.
Theatre Horizon is the perfect setting for this intimate and impactful story. The small cast speaks out to us, loudly and in ways that get them noticed. They bring us out of our comfort zone and make us feel uncomfortable and exposed right along with them. Sydney Banks delivers an incredible performance that will make you want to jump out of your seat and fight right along side Sally. And we all know a guy like Sean Close’s TJ- you just roll your eyes when you see him coming. What a sleezeball.
TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever encourages us to use our voices and advocate for others to do the same. We are not our ancestors. We do not have to follow quietly behind them. We have the power and the ability to step out of line, to shout, to gather together and tackle situations that shouldn’t be swept under a rug. Forget what you’ve been told is the “norm”! Start creating the world you want to see.
Grab a seat at TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, Theatre Horizon in Norristown and become inspired to make a change. Tickets are $25-$35, with $15 student and theater industry tickets also available. A limited number of $2 tickets are available for Norristown residents (proof of address required).