By Esther Lee–
As part of the 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville presents “Cry Old Kingdom” by Jeff Augustin. Winner of the 2011 Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and the Kennedy Center Playwright Observer at the Sundance Theatre Lab, Augustin debuts into the professional playwriting world with this powerful play.
“Cry Old Kingdom” is set in Haiti, 1964. Edwin (Andy Lucien) is an artist who was forced into hiding under the regime of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. With the help of his wife, Judith (Natalie Paul), Edwin has adopted and adapted to the life of being “dead.” This changes when Edwin discovers a man, Henri Marx (Jonathan Majors), who was attempting to build a boat to escape to America. The artist makes a bargain with Marx —Edwin could paint Marx build the boat, and Marx could build the boat in the art studio.
The story continues to explore Edwin’s walk out of the dead as he starts to feel alive. Not only Edwin, but also Judith starts to hope under the cries of revolution and Marx imagines his life in the land of opportunity as his boat comes closer into completion. But under the repressive circumstances in Haiti, the feelings of being alive for all three characters are being stripped and eaten away by the regime.
“Cry Old Kingdom”’s brilliant script stirs the emotions of the audience who hopes for the best for Edwin, Marx, and Judith but cannot shake off the uneasy feelings of what lies ahead. Although the play shows and heavily revolves on the lives of these Haitians, the story inevitably forces the audience to think about their — our lives in America that Marx sought out so hopefully and desperately.Augustin successfully affects the audience not just during the play, but also, resoundingly after the play.
As a character-driven play, the actors poured out their hearts and souls into their characters bringing the story to life. Lucien’s Edwin was skeptical, Majors’ Marx was innovative, and Paul’s Judith was bright and lightless. All three actors thoroughly brought out their character’s individual stories, but more importantly, the call and response with one another executed the theme of “Cry Old Kingdom.” Lucien’s and Majors’ interaction is in complete sync during both their subtle comedic and heart-wrenching climatic moments. The lost love between husband and wife was beautifully portrayed by Lucien and Paul.
The set and costumes was not elaborate nor colorful which was perfect for the dark nature of “Cry Old Kingdom.” This showed and emphasized the hard times and struggles for the Haitian people. The lighting effectively changed the setting from the home to the studio to the sea. Also, the music in between the scene changes told the mood of the current situation. Lastly, the structure of the Bingham theatre in Actors Theatre brought the production altogether. (The Bingham Theatre is similar to the University of Louisville’s Thrust theatre- except Bingham theatre has seats on all for sides of the center stage.) The theatre makes the audience observe the play rather than just watch.
“Cry Old Kingdom” was a great play that showed the lives of normal people under the tyranny of politics. The acting, set and lighting, script, and prop and costume design lead to the success of this production. The Humana Festival annually introduces new plays into the theater world, but “Cry Old Kingdom” definintely deserves its audience.
Photo courtesy of The Actor’s Theatre