Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's Kingdom.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Kingdom. It was by Michael Allen Harris and it was directed by Kanomé Jones. It was about a family who lived near Disney World and their entire home was devoted to Disney. But their lives were not always full of magic and wonder. They struggle with homophobia, racism, complicated relationships, violence, illness, and alcoholism. But this show isn't sad all the way through. It is heartwarming, funny, and clever. It has a lot of back and forth banter in it which shows you the relationships between the people. It is about devotion, family, and how magic can be translated into real life. I think this show has some very sincere and powerful performances and I was really drawn into the story.

I thought the family relationships were really complex but based in affection. All they want is the best for each other, but they are not all good at accepting help when they need it. The heads of the family are the fathers, Henry (Watson Swift) and Arthur (Christopher McMorris). Henry has cancer, and Arthur wants to get married now that it is legal. But Henry isn't so keen on that. Alexander (Michael Mejia-Beal) is Arthur's biological son, but was raised by both his fathers. He dated Malik (Byron Coolie) since college, but then they broke up because Malik was afraid he'd lose his position on his NFL team if he came out. Phaedra (Regina Whitehead "RjW" Mays) was Alexander's cousin and they were very close and they helped each other out a lot. She is in a relationship with a woman whose husband is in jail. And she has been to jail herself and her daughter doesn't want her around her granddaughter because she doesn't trust her. Something that is really sad about this play is watching how these characters who love each other shut each other out. Like how Henry and Arthur don't agree on if they should get married or not and when Alexander starts drinking Phaedra is trying to help him but he refuses to take any help. They have some very emotional scenes together where it is clear that Phaedra is really concerned for Alexander's well-being, but he just won't listen and doesn't seem to care. These are some of the saddest scenes in the play. There are glimpses of things that might change, but a lot of times they are foiled.

Something I found very interesting was how all the family had names of kings or queens who had stories told about them that were larger than life. And Malik's name literally means king. I think it is using the power of naming hopefully, as if it were magic. It is looking at a child and saying, if I name him Alexander, maybe he'll be Great. But then you see all these people with namesakes who were powerful but they are powerless over many of the events in their lives. Henry has no power over cancer. Alexander seems to feel powerless over alcohol. Phaedra can't change her past. Malik can't change the way he feels. You compare all these people in your head to mythologized Kings and Queens and it makes you think about the differences between fairy tales and reality. They live so close to this world full of magic, but their proximity to Disney isn't going to save them from their real life. But even though their lives aren't perfect, it doesn't mean they can't have their happy ending.

Some houses have pictures of Jesus everywhere, but their house has shrines for Mickey Mouse everywhere you turn. It is a religious experience for them it seems, and Disney World is like their paradise. Henry and Arthur like how at Disney World the characters and employees treat everyone like worthwhile human beings and with respect. They feel happy there and can enjoy themselves without the pain of the real world. So even if the proximity doesn't change their lives, being there makes their lives more livable. Phaedra also has a religious Disney experience by talking to Mufasa from the Lion King while she is high. She just started talking to him about how great her weed was, like they were old friends. And she also realizes that she can take more control of her own life. So even though Disney is this magical unrealistic thing, it actually does help her get her act together.

I have a paragraph where I talk about my favorite scene between Malik and Alexander, but it is a little spoiler-y so you can check it out here.

People who would like this show are people who like complex family relationships, the contrast between fairy tales and reality, and talking to Mufasa about weed. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a beautiful story with compelling characters. You feel like you are in every scene with them and like you are part of their family.

Photos: Devon Green

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