Kingdom City, from real life to the stage
Article by Alejandra Enciso Guzmán
A 2006 article in The New York Times about ‘censorship’ in a small Missouri town regarding high school productions of Grease and The Crucible, served as ‘trigger’ for playwright Sheri Wilner and her piece ‘Kingdom City’. The worldwide premiere raised the curtain on September 23rd at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Miriam (Kate Blumerg) a New York based theater director is married to Daniel (Todd Weeks) a writer who just started a fellowship in Kingdom City Missouri. The Jewish couple find it hard to adjust being that most of the residents (all who know each other) are –intense- about their religious beliefs. Miriam is also starting a position as theater director, in the high school drama club. Her vision is to direct modern, fresh works; but the principal of the school disagrees, giving her a list of more ‘appropriate’ and classic plays for the young thespians to work on. Miriam decides to work on Arthur Miller’s, ‘The Crucible’. As she auditions three students: Katie (Cristina Gerla) and Matt (Austyn Myers) a young couple who besides their like of theater, spend their afternoons with youth minister Luke (Ian Littleworth) preparing for their purity ceremony and ‘the school outcast’ Crystal (Katie Sapper) an aspiring –atheist- actress who claims attention everywhere she sets foot.
The Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre creates a great intimate atmosphere with Robert Brill’s welcoming scenic design. Being only 18, Myers shows vast theater experience with his deep and choreographed way of looking. Sapper tends to the high notes from time to time, which is greatly balanced during the second act, where the story takes an abrupt turn.
The play addresses three angels: teaching, religion (taken to the extreme), and theater. Sheri Williams nails it alongside Jackson Gray’s direction, hitting specific –sensitive- matters. How pushing things to the extreme can be harmful (including religion), the sensitizing power in theater, the importance of teaching and how far a good guidance will go. It is funny how throughout the play Miriam is very passionate insisting on just being the school’s scenic director, ‘not a teacher’. Her direction takes the kids to a learning curve, in which they will discover their own person and unique voice.
The space did not have its regular turnout. Hopefully during the last two weeks of this engagement, it will pick up being this is a great piece of work. In which you can see and almost grasp the hand of each member of the creative team. And, hopefully La Jolla Playhouse as well as other theater companies will continue to challenge the ways of story telling, making its audiences think and reflect on what it is that makes us trigger.
Kingdom City will be playing until Sunday October 5th, 2014. Ticket prices start at $15.00. For more information on times and surrounding activities please go to www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org
Photo caption: (L-R) Austyn Myers as “Matt,” Ian Littleworth as “Luke” and Cristina Gerla as “Katie” in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of KINGDOM CITY, by Sheri Wilner, directed by Jackson Gay, running September 4 – October 5 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.