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THEATER REVIEW Kingdom
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-03-14

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Playwright: Michael Allen Harris

At: Broken Nose Theatre at the Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: Pay-what-you-can. Runs through: April 7

Our paradisiacal realm might be a commercially crafted amusement park in Florida encircled by the hostile culture endemic to that gulf-rim state, but the magic empowering true love and lovers is no less efficacious for being cobbled from the gospel according to Batman and Walt Disney, augmented by folk wisdom, astrology and Everglades voodoo.

The cataclysm in Michael Allen Harris' play precipitating crisis, ironically, is the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage. Though viewed as a significant step on the road to social enlightenment, its initial implementation proved no deterrent to a heritage of xenophobia condoning systematic discrimination against demographics threatening the status quo.

Arthur and Henry Brown share a triple-whammy demographic. Not only are they African-American and gay, but old enough to have recently fled the harassment encountered in assisted-living facilities. At present, the forty-years-together couple are living in Arthur's house under the care of his children by an early het marriage. These include ex-gangbanger Phaedra and Disneyworld marketer Alexander ( Southern United States regions share a fondness for names reflecting classical myth ) both of whom are, coincidentally, also gay.

A dramatic universe in which white, heterosexual and fully franchised are qualities restricted to offstage personnel is a cosmology rarely invoked, even in 2018, so Harris cannot be faulted for taking advantage of this opportunity to reference issues involving covert denial of civil rights/public services in addition to the personal struggles engendered by guilt and remorse: Phaedra's attempt to forge a stable relationship with her damaged sweetheart, Alexander's alcoholism following his bisexual ex-lover's retreat to the closet ( cf. NFL athlete Michael Sam ), Arthur's anger and disappointment at Henry's refusal to formalize their marital status, despite the latter's diagnosis of prostate cancer.

This is enough backstory to fuel a dozen plays ( or a two-season television series, at least ), but never does our attention waver during the two hours necessary to bring the challenges confronting this troubled clan to a satisfactory conclusion. Commendations are due Harris' earthy dialogue and Kanome Jones' brisk-paced direction, but what ensures our immediate empathy is the chemistry exhibited by Christopher McMorris and Watson Swift, who expand the boundaries of geezerly mannerisms to endow Arthur and Henry with a romantic warmth to be envied at any age.


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