Review: Kingdom (Broken Nose Theatre)

| March 13, 2018

Watson Swift, RjW Mays, Byron Coolie and Michael Mejia-Beal star in Kingdom, Broken Nose            



Written by Michael Allen Harris
at Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Apr 7  |  tix: pay-what-you-can  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Ground-breaking world premiere lovingly explores what makes a family


Watson Swift, RjW Mays, Byron Coolie and Michael Mejia-Beal star in Kingdom, Broken Nose

Broken Nose Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Whalen

While queer narratives are more present than ever, they mostly focus on white, middle-class urban men (with the occasional lesbian or trans character). Kingdom is the first installment in Michael Allen Harris’ play cycle on LGBTQ+ people of color in the American South. Developed over two years with Broken Nose Theatre, Harris’ newest work is a thoughtful, funny and a tragic meditation on a multi-generational African-American queer family living in Orlando. Their love of Disney always on display, they face struggles with shame, marriage and bad decisions, while continuing to lift one another up. Kingdom is unmissable, especially with Broken Nose’s pay-what-you-can structure that ensures accessibility for all audiences.

Watson Swift and Christopher K. McMorris star in Kingdom, Broken Nose TheatreArthur (Christopher McMorris) and Henry (Watson Swift) bear the names of kings. Partners for over 40 years and hardcore Disney fans (to them, “Star Wars” does not and will never count as Disney), they live near the Magic Kingdom and enthusiastically visit on a regular basis. But all is not well in Arthur and Henry’s world. Henry’s health is rapidly declining, and the two were forced to move back into their old home – now occupied by Arthur’s lesbian niece Phaedra (RjW Mays) – after being kicked out of their assisted living facility because of their relationship. It’s 2015 and gay marriage has just been legalized in Florida, but while Arthur wants to make things official, Henry most certainly does not. Their adult son Alexander (Michael Mejia-Beal) is drinking away a recent breakup; meanwhile, Phaedra is juggling college, a new girlfriend and her own adult child who refuses to let Phaedra see her infant granddaughter. And when Alexander’s ex Malik (Byron Coolie), a closeted pro football player now engaged to a woman, shows up for dinner, things get even more complicated.

Broken Nose prides itself on not only accessibility, but also representation. Their annual Bechdel Fest celebrates women-centric plays, and last year’s At the Table was a smash hit for its provocative and intelligent rumination on race in Trump’s America. Harris, now pursuing his MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School, is the company’s first resident playwright, and for good reason. Nuanced and empathetic, Kingdom is far more than “let’s do a play about queer black people.” Every character is equal parts frustrating and generous, from the alcoholic son who wants his dads to fight for their rights, to the aging patriarch who loves his partner to the moon and back but has his own secret reasons for resisting a wedding. Even Malik, who forced Alexander to keep their relationship secret for several years before dumping him, comes off not as a caricature but a complex person.

Watson Swift, RjW Mays and Christopher K. McMorris star in Kingdom, Broken Nose TheatreChristopher K. McMorris and Michael Mejia-Beal star in Kingdom, Broken Nose Theatre RjW Mays, Christopher K. McMorris and Michael Mejia-Beal star in Kingdom, Broken Nose TheatreWatson Swift and RjW Mays star in Kingdom, Broken Nose Theatre (Photo by Devon Green)

Harris’ writing is chock-full of everyday humor – the play opens with Arthur and Alexander bantering about Batman’s bedroom preferences – and life-altering tragedy. From beginning to end, Harris’ script is completely and utterly compelling, and director Kanomé Jones does a wonderful job with interpreting and staging the story. Grover Holloway’s sound design, which consists of nontraditional covers of Disney tunes, beautifully underscores Arthur and Henry’s passion for the theme park that always welcomes them with open arms.

Kingdom’s opening was delayed five days when an actor had to be replaced due to illness, but you would never know by the cast’s organic relationships and strong character development. Mays is a particular standout as the no-nonsense Phaedra, who prefers ESPN to the Disney Channel, and breaks into a goofy smile when she talks about her burgeoning relationship with a Lebanese single mother. Only Mejia-Beal falters at times, especially when it comes to portraying Alexander’s drinking problem (alcoholic-drunk looks different from regular drunk, and both are difficult to recreate onstage). Overall, however, Kingdom is a glimpse into a unique family whose issues are universal, who unequivocally adore each other even when they heatedly argue. Harris’ groundbreaking world premiere is a lovely, modern rumination on what makes a family.

Rating: ★★★½

Kingdom continues through April 7th at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you-can, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Michael Mejia-Beal, Watson Swift, RjW Mays and Byron Coolie star in Kingdom, Broken Nose Theatre

Photos by Devon Green




Christopher McMorris (Arthur), Watson Swift (Henry), Michael Mejia-Beal (Alexander), RjW Mays (Phaedra), Byron Coolie (Malik)

Understudies: Larry D. Trice II (Henry), Ben Locke (Alexander), Takesha Meshé Kizart (Phaedra), James Mercer (Malik)

behind the scenes

Kanomé Jones (director), Echaka Agba (assistant director), Rose Hamill (production manager), David Weiss (dramaturg), Caswell James (technical director, co-scenic design), Michael Joseph (lighting design), Elizabeth Gomez (master electrician), Grover Holloway (sound design), Marci Rodriguez (costume design), Devon Green (props design, co-scenic design, photography), Rylee Freeman (hair & makeup design), Chloe Baldwin (violence design), Nikki Marquadt (stage manager), Julia Farrell (assistant stage manager), Elise Marie Davis (casting director)

Byron Coolie and Michael Mejia-Beal star in Kingdom, Broken Nose Theatre


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2018 Reviews, Broken Nose Theatre, Den Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, World Premier

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.