WORDS BY KATIE DOHMAN
“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 Jungle Artist Cohort and playwright JuCoby Johnson in a release. “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.”
The play that resulted, 5, was initially commissioned by the Trademark Theater in 2020, then was workshopped at the Playwright’s Center and Trademark Theater. 5 then went on to be a 2021 O’Neill NPC Finalist and a Seven Devils Finalist before finding its way to its world premiere at the Jungle Theater.
H. Adam Harris, longtime friend, one-time Minneapolis resident who’s now with the South Coast Repertory, directs the play. “Really it’s about what happens when you ask how you take care of and hold onto who and what you love the most when faced with the end of all days. What will you want to remember? What will you focus on?”
The play centers around two friends, one Black and one white, played by Johnson and Eric Hagen, whose fathers passed down the ownership of their longtime “heartbeat of the neighborhood”—a convenience store—to their sons. They find themselves facing a rapidly changing neighborhood set against the backdrop of the apocalypse, in their fictional town of Babylon, Georgia.
Babylon is quickly gentrifying and when Davenport Realty makes an offer on their property, it kicks off a massive debate over how to handle the offer.
“This play isn’t just about heroes and villains,” Harris adds. “Inevitably—and I’m not a historian exactly but I was born and raised in Detroit—inevitably, when you gentrify a place, other places become where community and heart find themselves…What can gentrification take away and what can’t it take away? You can gentrify Detroit, but you can’t own Detroit. You can gentrify but you can’t own Babylon, Georgia. Places are sacred and important and what places do to take care of you, hold space for you—that’s what you carry with you wherever you go, whether in a gentrified neighborhood to one filled with community care and wellness for all bodies and all peoples.”
The play, Harris says, is really, really about “people trying to do their best in the face of the world that doesn’t hold space for us, any of us.” But the biggest takeaway, he says, is that it’s told by and then produced by a full team who’ve poured their all into this brand-new story, “written by a young Black man with a fantastic imagination and with poetry in every word. He writes about humanity’s tenderness and humanity’s capacity to fail—and be loved beyond or through their failure.”
WHEN YOU GO
5, a coproduction between Jungle Theater and Trademark Theater
Through April 16, pay as you are pricing
For tickets and full schedule: jungletheater.org/5-show