Quote of the Day: “I find the most joy when I’m writing something that feels impossible. Something that requires a ton of imagination and ingenuity to realize fully,” says Johnson. “I started writing this play in the Summer of 2020 when it felt like the world could end at any moment. I took that feeling and put it at the forefront of the play, which turned it into something I never imagined it would be.” from the press release for “5” a co-production with Trademark Theater and premiering at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, MN. Playwright JuCoby Johnson. Directed by H. Adam Harris.

The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, MN is producing the world premiere of JuCoby Johnson’s latest play “5” in conjunction with Trademark Theater, a company that supports new work. They helped playwright Johnson develop his play, which is appearing onstage at The Jungle through April 16, 2023. Get your tickets fast. This one is selling out. The Jungle is a smaller theater with limited seating, and even more limited parking. So, plan to arrive early, maybe grab a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants nearby. There’s a line in the play about parking that we chuckled at, even as it rang painfully true.

Eric Hagen as Evan and JuCoby Johnson as Jay in “5” at The Jungle Theater thru 4/16/23. Photo: Lauren B. Photography

Johnson’s play “5” has five characters. JuCoby Johnson plays Jay, one half of a friendship/partnership with Evan, played by Eric Hagen. Their relationship seems to go back to birth. Their fathers were the original partners of the small corner store in fictional Babylon, GA. The old sign that bears the name Big Jay’s Corner Store still hangs above the door. A mural, begun by Big Jay, depicting the neighborhood before all the big changes, gentrification, happened, hangs above the cash register, incomplete. The set, designed by Chelsea M. Warren, gives off the vibe of a neighborhood store, a bit of a time capsule with an old boom box, cassette tapes, a broken down cooler, and various displays of snacks and handwritten signs. Jay, especially, is resistant to making any changes, including getting rid of the old tapes. While Evan talks of moving in a new direction while plugging his smartphone into the stereo system. 

Eric Hagen as Evan and JuCoby Johnson as Jay in “5” at The Jungle Theater thru 4/16/23. Photo: Lauren B. Photography

Change is coming, whether they like it or not. Walter (Aaron Todd Douglas) opens the play with a prophesy about change and the feeling of the coming apocalypse, kind of a doomsday or book of Revelations message. He’s also that person that links the younger generation to the older one. Walter knew the boys’ dads when they first started the store and has been a regular ever since. Jay takes care of his father’s old friend, offering him food that he’s prepped for the week. Jay lives upstairs above the store, where he’s had an apartment since he was a child. Evan rolls in on his bike expecting to be taken care of, but also looking at what can be different about their situation. The dynamic between the two friends is intense, but affectionate. At one point they have a knock down drag out fight, but there’s a hope that they will make amends.

At the beginning of the show, Jay and his girlfriend June (Isabella Dawis) are on the outs. They’ve had some spats and wonder if they’re going to make it. They also have a long history, including growing up in the same neighborhood and family businesses. Evan adds a third spoke to their wheel, which isn’t always the easiest fit.

To escalate the situation even further, a woman from Davenport Developers walks in, ready to make them an offer in this rapidly changing neighborhood. Stacy (Dana Lee Thompson) offers financial help to the struggling business and points out some interesting details in the deed. She has her own demons to deal with. 

This plot would be poignant already without the mystical elements, but they add another layer that gives characters a chance for some soul searching. The sound effects (Dan Dukich) and lighting (Bill Healey) add a fantastical feel to this production. I found myself surprised several times and in awe of how well they executed these scenes.  I marveled at Johnson’s imagination, and the manifestation of it by the creative team. (Here’s where I’ll stop as I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it was cool.) It’s the first thing my friend Marina and I talked about as we drove away from the show. There are also many great nuggets of dialogue (mini speeches, even) that I wanted to hear again. I found myself wishing I could read a copy of this script.

JuCoby Johnson has written a smart script that is set in real life scenarios and mystical elements. “5” is a must see, and one that will provoke great discussion with your audience mates and keep you reflecting on it long past the curtain’s close.

You can see “5” at The Jungle Theater through April 16, 2023. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What changes have you witnessed in your neighborhood and community, or even in your own family?