By Jordan Geisler —
“King Hedley II” kicked off the University of Louisville Theatre department’s new season, “A Season of Black Plays” on Sept. 19. The play, directed by Baron Kelly, centers around the quick-tempered King Hedley II, played by Xavier Mikal Harris, who is trying to make a better life for his wife Tonya, portrayed by Kala Ross.
The play is set in the mid-80s, but it’s clear that it’s applicable to today’s time.
Taking place during the aftermath of a relative’s passing, King and his wife can’t agree on starting a family. After finishing his seven year jail sentence for murder, King is left selling refrigerators with his friend Mister (Tyler Tate) in order to save up to open a video store and start a legacy for his family. Meanwhile, King’s mother Ruby (Marquita Howerton) is visited by an old flame, the smooth-talking gambler Elmore, portrayed by Charles A. Nasby. Throughout the play, the off-the-wall neighbor Stool Pigeon (Alphaeus Green, Jr.) offers bits of scripture and insight, claiming God’s making room for the end times.
The play covers many relevant themes like abortion and gun violence. Tonya’s shining moment of the play is during her monologue of why she’s considering an abortion. She says she sees so much death and so little life, and that she couldn’t bear the possibility of going down to the morgue to claim her own dead child. The characters also discuss the impact of gun violence on their town, that someone is getting shot every day. All the while, King and Elmore have their own guns to guarantee protection, which is the ultimate downfall of one of the characters.
King continually asks people if he has a halo on his head, a reference to a dream he had where he wore one. This plays on his sense of feeling innocent despite having killed a man for attacking him, and whether or not he’s a good man despite having recently robbed a jewelry store to save money. While the play carries a heavy tone, Stool Pigeon offers frequent comic relief.
The play, which runs until Sept. 29, is well worth seeing, and shows that even though America has changed considerably since the 80s, a lot has stayed the same.
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