Writer, director and producer Je’Caryous Johnson has added another gem to his ever-growing treasure-trove of hit plays. This time, it’s the stage play adaptation of the film “Two Can Play That Game,” released in 2001 which instantly became a fan favorite and would evolve into a cult classic.
Houston native Johnson, 40, serves as the play’s executive producer, along with one of the most revered actresses in the business, Vivica A. Fox, who reprises her role as the relationship guru Shante Smith and also serves as co-producer. Johnson says his formula for success begins with the script.
“I pride myself on starting with the best script on paper and then work toward creating the best production possible,” Johnson said. “I want people to walk away saying the play was one of the best they’ve ever seen — that they were inspired.”
Johnson, known for adapting best-selling novels into plays, has developed a penchant for penning provocative scripts and for attracting some of the biggest names in the business — celebrities all eager to star in one of his shows. And despite challenges and pain that confronted him during his childhood, he has proven that with hard work, determination and perseverance, anything is possible.
The husband, father, family man, faithful Christian and businessman of the highest caliber, has found his niche in a relatively untapped genre: “urban theater.” And he says he’s confident that even greater opportunities are in store for him and the company he founded, Je’Caryous Johnson Entertainment.
“Urban theater was built for the church and its members as an alternative form of entertainment for Christians,” he noted. “It has continued to evolve and to attract an even wider audience. But many underestimate the quality of such productions and are unaware of how far it has progressed from a literary perspective.”
Johnson, trained by such luminaries as Jose Quintero, Edward Albee and the incomparable August Wilson, has burned the midnight oil for over two decades and has reaped the rewards of his admirable work ethic. And despite being one of the highest-grossing playwrights on the planet, he remains hard at work, writing novels while also working on a plethora of full-length feature film and television projects — even accepting speaking invitations where he’s able to use his God-given wisdom and humor as a means of empowering others.
Still, one of the things said about him by those who know him well, is that he has remained humble and thankful — a rare quality in an industry known for petulance, arrogance and self-aggrandizement.
“I can’t get to every city to see how this current tour is going but I show up as much as I can,” he said. “Recently, I went to Atlanta where the play was being shown. The reactions from fans were just great. Between the first and second shows, 800 tickets were sold — basically due to word of mouth.”
“For me, that was the biggest compliment. People said to me, ‘the play is even better than the movie.’ That’s very hard to do and I was grateful to receive comments like that. They liked the new stuff — the way I’ve enhanced the original script and updated it so that it’s a reflection of life today.”
“I write plays in the year in which we live and firmly believe that urban theater, when studied 20 years from now, will be interpreted as a model for contemporary theater because of the issues included in the scripts. The majority of plays that make it to the stage tend to be period pieces. But in the genre in which I work, we provide an accurate account, a bird’s eye view, of the world today. For me, that’s exciting and I believe it’s what continues to bring people back to see my work.”
“Sure, our audiences are primarily African-Americans. But we continue to attract non-African-Americans who quickly join our fan base. And what they tell me and my crew is that it’s the kind of theatrical experience that simply does not exist in ‘their’ theaters.”
What’s next for Je’Caryous Johnson — the brother with the Midas Touch?
He answered the question like an excited kid in a candy store.
“I’m working on an adaptation of the movie ‘Set It Off’ [the highly acclaimed 1996 film that featured Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kimberly Elise and Vivica A. Fox as four inner-city women whose desperation drives them to become bank robbers in Los Angeles], the Luther Vandross story and a play about Destiny’s Child,” he said. “I want to grow the market to accept full musicals within our genre. I want to grow my brand.”