‘Ghetto Gods in Divineland’ tells gritty story with some mythical twists

ghetto gods in divineland review


Tasha Holmes with Carlo Campbell, center, and Davon Cochran in “Ghetto Gods in Divineland.”

Ambitious in its intentions but too rough around the edges to make all of them work, “Ghetto Gods in Divineland” is currently having its world premiere in a production presented by Passage Theatre Company at The Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton. Written by Richard Bradford and Anthony Martinez-Briggs, and directed by Ozzie Jones, this Trenton-set play — Divineland refers to the ghetto where the characters live — is hard to pin down, in terms of its tone. It’s simultaneously street-smart and mythical, with satiric jabs at politicians and the media, but also a deeply tragic ending.


Craig Storror and Alicia Thomas play radio DJs and other characters in “Ghetto Gods in Divineland.

It is set in “The Not So Distant Future,” according to the program, but also honors the past by glorifying the music of the Trenton-based hip-hop group Poor Righteous Teachers, who earned a national following with a series of socially and politically aware albums in the ’90s. (On the night I attended, group member Culture Freedom was in the audience, and took a bow before the show.)

Five hard-working actors make it seem like “Ghetto Gods” has a much larger cast. Davon Cochran plays Ameen, a revolutionary seething with anger. Tasha Holmes plays his sister Gekiyla, a scientist who has come back to her hometown after attending college in Philadelphia. Carlo Campbell plays Papa Shh, their friend, who is as easy-going as they both are intense, but also, sometimes, functions as the voice of reason.

Alicia Thomas and Craig Storrod play radio DJs who spin under the name Ghetto Gods, and who serve as a sort of Greek chorus with their song introductions. These two actors play other characters as well, including a cynical politician, a quick-triggered policeman, and a shallow journalist.

The Ghetto Gods set the play’s story into motion by relaying two bits of news, over the air. A “big old sinkhole” has opened up in the middle of Divineland. And Ameen and Gekiyla’s mother, who served as a sort of mother figure for all of Divineland (and who was a big Poor Righteous Teachers fan), has died.

Gekiyla has found a silver lining in the sinkhole, though: A mysterious, literally glowing root that she has discovered growing there. She has analyzed it, as a scientist, and believes it has various kinds of applications that can benefit the world and make Divineland prosperous (since it only exists there).


Davon Cochran in “Ghetto Gods in Divineland.”

Meanwhile, the Lower Trenton Bridge is closed and in danger of being converted into a theme park, with a giant rollercoaster and its famous “Trenton Makes, The World Takes” sign altered so that it reads “Trenton World.” (The play’s set, designed by Marie Laster, is mostly at street level, though she also has built part of the bridge itself, higher up.) This really sets Ameen off — he can’t stand that politicians are chasing material gain in this ridiculous way while ignoring the sinkhole, which is causing a power outage in Divineland. “They don’t love us, they love things!” he cries out.

Ameen ends up leading an effort to fight the project by occupying the bridge, and this turns into an epic standoff with police. “A nation is watching,” Papa Shh says.

Gekiyla and Ameen’s mother tried to make the world a better place, and they are both following in her footsteps, in their own way. Gekiyla is all brain; Ameen is all heart.

“It could change the world,” Gekiyla says of the root, insisting it has “untapped energy that’s waiting to be unlocked.”

“I don’t give a fuck about no funky-ass mushroom,” responds Ameen, who just wants to lash out at injustice, now.

“You aren’t seeing the bigger picture,” says Gekiyla.


Tasha Holmes and Carlo Campbell in “Ghetto Gods in Divineland.”

“Ghetto Gods in Divineland” gets better throughout the course of its 90 minutes, as its themes come into sharper focus. And its ending is quite powerful.

So what did I mean by “rough around the edges” in this review’s first sentence?

Well, I think the play has some serious flaws. An opening song-and-dance sequence didn’t seem to have much of a connection to anything that followed. Ameen is too one-dimensional a character — all we really learn about him is his intense opposition to the rollercoaster project. And Gekiyla’s ardent, unquestioning belief in the powers of the root seems like too big a stretch for a scientific type who would naturally have some skepticism, and proceed more cautiously.

Also, the play doesn’t really work as the Poor Righteous Teachers tribute it aspires to be. While snippets of the group’s songs are heard, and excerpts from their videos are shown, the play does not linger on the music long enough to show why it is revered. And an attempt to tie the power of the group’s music to the power of the root is, at best, awkward.

Passage Theatre Company will present “Ghetto Gods in Divineland” at The Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton, through Feb. 25. Visit passagetheatre.org.

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