ARCHIVE: The Kingdom and the Power

DownloadedFile (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 16, 2009)

When we first met up with the ReVision Theatre Company last year in oRBit, the newly established professional stage company in Asbury Park was in the process of transforming the seaside albatross Carousel building into a viable venue for live performance (for last summer’s successful run of Hair), while setting up offices, workshop and rehearsal space inside the city’s venerable VFW Post 1333 on 701 Lake Avenue at Bond Street.

When we looked in on them back in December, ReVision’s triad of Producing Artistic Directors (Thomas MorrisseyDavid Leidholdt and Stephen Bishop Seely) had turned the VFW’s amply scaled Bingo hall into a working playhouse for Scrooge in Rouge, a colorfully daffy parody of a vintage English music-hall barnstormer.

ReVision returns for anther go-round at the Carousel this August with The Full Monty, and in July they’ll spotlight Steven Brinberg’s uncanny Streisand portrayal in a benefit performance of Funny Girl, the show that catapulted Babs to stardom. But one production here in ReVision’s first full season sticks out against the otherwise light and lively slate of offerings — and that’s Kingdom.

Described as a “Latin Hip Hop musical” study of two friends from the barrio whose need to belong — in this case, to the Nation of the Latin Kings — tears them apart, the show by Aaron Jafferis and Ian Williams previews this Thursday at 8pm, opens this Friday, April 17 and runs through May 3 at the VFW Theatre.

This is an East Coast premiere of a work that’s only recently been fully staged in San Diego — and the cast is headed up by two veterans of the California production,Christian Amaraut and Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, whose respective roles as Juan and Andres saw their origins in true stories of current and former Latin Kings. Carlos Armesto directs an all-Latino cast that further features Dell Howlett (Cano),Desiree Rodriguez (Marisa), Keith Antone (Hector), Jose Candleria(Danny), Erikamarie Rumore (Queen 1), Judah Gavra (King 2), and Chelsea Zeno(Queen 2). Andre Da Silva replaced David Del Rio as King 1 when Del Rio was cast in a Nickelodeon TV series.

It’s a bold move for the ReVisionaries, with both an unknown quantity of a show and a subject matter that most communities would rather sweep under the sidewalk if they could. ReVision, however, took the opposite tack; hosting a Kingdom Kick-Off Party on March 6 that introduced and explained the show to the public, as well as a Kingdom Exploration Symposium on March 19, in which the show’s cast and crew joined a panel of gang experts in discussing the presence of gangs in Monmouth County, and the ways in which parents, teachers and community leaders can take action to prevent gang violence. Audiences are also being invited to take part in after-show forums that follow each performance.

After the jump, Red Bank oRBit speaks with director Armesto on the hows and whys of this much-anticipated show.

DownloadedFile-1The cast of Kingdom includes (Back Row, L-R) Dell Howlett, David Del Rio (replaced by Andre Da Silva), Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, Desiree Rodriguez, Keith Antone, and Jose Candleria; (Front Row, L-R) Erikamarie Rumore, Christian Amaraut, and Chelsea Zeno. Absent on picture day: Judah Gavra. (Photo by Dennis Carroll)

RED BANK ORBIT: It seems that ReVision is working this show hard and they have a lot invested with it, but most of us know next to nothing about KINGDOM. What’s your take on it?

CARLOS ARMESTO: It’s a daring play, a play for people who don’t usually come to the theater — and it’s got a hip hop bounce to it, which we’re taking a little further. Mostly the score is either rapped or sung — in Spanish and in English.

The poster and advertising image makes it clear that this isn’t HELLO DOLLY we’re dealing with here.

It’s an intense image, appropriate to what we’re doing, since the subject matter is so intense. I wouldn’t call it a children’s play — the parental advisory is there for a reason.

But at the same time it is a musical; people break into song and dance, so how much of a challenge is it to put forth these dramatic themes in a genre that’s always been better suited to light comedy?

There is a harshness, a naturalistic energy in the show — but it’s also very stylized. A fight is not a fight; there’s no blood, and the movement is very choreographed. The set is pretty bare — mostly just a floor and door frames. The lighting, which is by Sean Lindsay Manuel, and how the actors move, are how we convey the ideas in the show.

What are you doing differently from the San Diego production?

It’s much more choreographed; we have a choreographer, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, whereas in the past only one of the numbers had any choreography. There’s a formal element of movement to it now. And our two lead actors, Christian and Miguel, were both in the San Diego production. Not as Juan and Andres, but in supporting roles.

The show turns out to have a much larger cast than I expected it would.

It is a big cast, and we double up, triple up on some of the parts. But the gangs are about belonging to a crowd, having safety in numbers, and we have to get creative in creating crowds. There are times when the audience kind of plays the part of the crowd!

So how would you describe the dynamic between those two lead characters?

They’re two young guys in the barrio — and the city is not named; there’s a sense that this could happen anywhere. Juan’s mother has walked out on him, and Andres, who lives in the projects, basically says I’ll take care of you. They embark upon a journey to have a real brotherhood, and they meet up with the Latin Kings and get involved in this thing, which in real life is very organized.

They’re trying to be peaceful; trying to survive, dealing drugs for income. They’re surrounded with a lot of guns, a lot of levels of protection.

What kind of response did you guys get with the community outreach events that you scheduled?

Very encouraging. The kickoff event was attended by people from all sides of the tracks. The writer of the show said that success for us is community engagement; using that in creating solutions — and I think we have the beginnings of a dialogue going on. If the audience listens, if the community hears about this, then it can happen.

Sounds like the show strikes a hopeful note.

It is tragic in many ways; it’s about survival, and some Shakespearean sort of father-son themes. But there’s solace, and there is hope.