Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Written by James Ijames
Directed by Pascale Florestal
In Partnership with Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Video Production by Wesley Verge
Lighting Design by Aja Jackson
Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt
Sound Design & Music by David Freeman Coleman
Choreography by Kira Cowan Troilo
Featuring: Dru Sky Berrian, Jordan Pearson, Tah-Janay Shayoñe, Sadiyah Dyce Stephens, Jared Troilo
RUN TIME: 1 hour and 35 minutes
SpeakEasy Stage’s CONTENT ADVISORY: TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever contains scenes involving strong language, sexual harassment, slavery, and Black trauma. Viewer discretion is advised.
NETG Advisory: TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever also features an adult white man in academia who knows better making an absolute fool of himself to appear young and cool to attract a woman. If you’re offended by the portrayal of this character’s antics, you may know or be that white man. Get help.
Review by Kitty Drexel
VIMEO — Thomas Jefferson, US founding father, raped Sally Hemings. They weren’t in love. She wasn’t his mistress. Hemings was a slave without autonomy. She was raped repeatedly and mothered seven children by Jefferson. An owned person can’t give consent.
TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever put this #MeToo epidemic and holds it under a microscope of history by comparing it to Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of Sally Hemings. Play character Sally (Tah-Janay Shayoñe looking like Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice reincarnated) is a university fellow of smarmy university administrator TJ (Jared Troilo). TJ won’t let Sally’s “nos” get in the way of his orgasm. She is supported by her best friends and historic voices of reason Pam (Dru Sky Berrian) and Annette (Sadiyah Dyce Stephens). Meanwhile study buddy Harold (Jordan Pearson) is challenging the university’s legacy of slavery one protest at a time. These students are trying to get an education that includes them. TJ can’t understand he isn’t cool anymore.
TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever carries elements of Dear White People (movie), The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess, 2007’s Stomp the Yard, and Ghostwriter (PBS). It has some excellent performances by the cast. Shayoñe carries the play/film. She confidently embraces the role of Sally with both arms and legs. It’s clear that she’s put herself into this role but, at the same time, has created enough artistic distance to navigate the many levels in the show. Sally is clearly defined and so is Tah-Janay. But, Sally and Tah-Janay are not the same person. Do you read that, white folx? Sally and Tah-Janay are not the same person. It’s called acting.
The physical comedy from Troilo is a gift that keeps on giving. When we aren’t talking about TJ’s sexy dance sequence in TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever we are pretending to do it. Our mad twerking isn’t so much an appreciation for Troilo’s selfless performance as it is an homage to our academia trauma. We carry five degrees between us. By becoming the funny, maybe we can purge the demented cis, white men who’ve hurt us.
The film editing by Wesley Verge isn’t perfect but it’s very good. The socially distant staging by Florestal considers the health needs/rights of the actors without directly signaling to the viewer that this film was made during the pandemic. TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever will be funny and effective art after the pandemic as both of the pandemic and of its long-term community standards.
Yes, some of the deeper shots in the blackbox theater have wonky sound engineering. This isn’t a sign of bad engineering as it is an indication that the crew creatively used the tools and resources they had. Yes, some of the dancing isn’t of equal technique. Choreography and its dancers are representatives of the story. Art isn’t perfect. Anyone looking for perfection wants a movie, not a play.
When MIT released its new consensual relationships policy on January 19, 2018 stating that professors could not have sexual or romantic relationships with their undergraduate or graduate students, allegedly a well-known male professor asked how he was supposed to date*. 2018 is too late in the game for an adult, male professor with tenure and at least one comprehensive sexual harassment training under his *cough* belt to be asking this question. That’s academia for you.
We loved that TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever used still images from Harvard and MIT as backgrounds. More subversive call-outs, please.
TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever is a fun play that examines colonization standards in academia through the apt metaphor of the Jefferson/Hemings “relationship.” It offers viewers multiple opportunities to understand why it is important to dismantle the current white, male academic standard for learning (and criticism). It also gives its audience reading material! These are the titles referenced in the TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever.
- Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
- The Body Is not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Clotel Or The President’s Daughter by William Wells Brown
*He should not.