Mary Jane Ajodah's New York debut is about a singer named Sally Clanton who has a dream of making something out of her life. After talking with Mary Jane, I have no doubts that she's not Sally. She may be still in high school, but she's already hitting it big.
Mary Jane is a 15-year-old playwright from Carteret whose original musical western "A Handful of Dust" is making its New York debut at The Grand Theater in August. The show will run from August 24-26.
The play is set in the old west and features hard rocking guitars and wild gun fights. Mary Jane previously staged it both in Carteret and as part of the Edison Fall Festival.
"It's a story about the American dream," explained Mary Jane Ajodah. "And you can see in the audience that the American cowboy spirit takes over."
The idea for a musical western came from a suggestion made at a senior center. Mary Jane and her brother had just finished performing an original rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" when they asked the audience what sort of play would interest them. One lady offered up a western and they decided to create one for her.
Mary Jane not only wrote the book but composed the music for the play and also stars in "A Handful of Dust". It probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to learn that one of her biggest inspirations is Mel Brooks, an artist who liked to dabble in all aspects of the business as well.
"I act, write, sing and compose music," said Mary Jane. "It's really the culmination of these things. I wouldn't be happy just acting alone or singing alone. The acting complements the singing and the composing complements the acting."
Her plays all feature the idea of friendship with family and storylines filled with action. She creates shows where a parent could bring their kid to see action without sex or nudity. "These are plays that I'd be able to watch with my parents and something I'd be interested in watching," she said. "They're not kiddie plays. They're something mature, but not too mature."
Mary Jane seems mature well beyond her years. Since breaking into theatre, she's been involved in every aspect of the business. She's acted, directed, written and directed plays. She even handles the casting. While her friends are struggling to find out what they want to do with their lives, Mary Jane has a pretty sound plan in place.
"I'm very interested in film," said Mary Jane. "Someday I hope to create my own movie company. That's where I want to head with this sort of thing, but, for now, I'm pretty much concentrating on stage work. Any time I've had a whim for anything, I just jumped right into it. Acting is where I found my niche after jumping into many different things. That's where I found I was happy."
She chooses not to act in her high school productions because the shows are always ones that have been done a thousand times before and that's not what she's about. She's not about heading down the path generally taken, she's a true original.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.