Friday, October 23, 2009

Theater Review: Lemon Andersen's "County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle"

By ELY ROSA ZAMORA

Lemon Andersen's new show County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle is an articulate recounting of the author's upbringing in Brooklyn (the county of reference in the play's title), where he was born and raised in a dysfunctional Puerto Rican family. Mr. Andersen, a poet who was an original cast member and writer of the Tony award-winning Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, recreates his family and his community through spoken word and urban music. His use of the fundamentals of a dramatic structure with the language and rhythms of hip hop create a piece that is a well crafted delight.

Mr. Andersen has the ability to engage and hold his audience by performing multiple characters, creating seamless transitions between them and making us dive into a highly detailed universe that despite its chaos splashes with joy and humor. From start to finish, the words flow with an amazing rhythm and the story takes us back in time to his housing project, almost as if we were listening to a griot, one of the West-African storytellers who perpetuate the oral tradition and history of their villages or families.

At one point, he recalls a very special moment with his mother in Coney Island when she said “that’s my boy”, after seeing him dancing happily among the people. This moment of total connection between mother and child was perhaps the most powerful moment, not only of the performance, but of his life. After all, through performance we come closest to the conditions under which we can understand our own experience, to the extent that one may think that these moments of truth and simple loving words were enough to drive him to where he is today.

The stage design by Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein is a symbolic background insinuating different scenarios in a single piece of art. Directed by Elise Thoron and produced by Spike Lee and The Culture Project, the show is set in the 1980’s, an era marked by high level crime, urban change, and the birth of hip hop. “County of Kings” is an elusive reference to this collaborative project and honors the other great urban artists, poets and performers in America who have been born and raised in Brooklyn.

County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle. Written and directed by Lemon Andersen. Through November 8 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, Astor Place, East Village. A limited number of tickets will be sold for $25 online, by phone, and at the box office. Please visit http://countyofkingstheplay.com/ or call 212-967-7555 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            212-967-7555      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

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