Sean Richmond and Kate Kuen star in Kingdom of Earth.
Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth
isn’t produced often, but the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans chose the work for its inaugural production. The drama has three characters, and there are similarities to — if not better versions of — them in other Williams plays, but the trio here all have intriguing moments under Augustin Correro’s direction.
Kingdom of Earth
, which in another incarnation was titled The Seven Descents of Myrtle, is set in a home on a Mississippi River levee about to be demolished by rising flood waters. Lot (David Williams) returns to reclaim his mother’s home, but he’s weakened by tuberculosis, and he blames his illness for his inability to consummate his marriage to his wife of two days, Myrtle (Kate Kuen). Lot’s half-brother Chicken (Sean Richmond) takes care of the home and sleeps on a cot in the kitchen.
The first half of the show offers glimpses of Williams’ humor and pathos. Lot’s TB seems to mask deficiencies in his relationship with Myrtle, and he warns her not to reveal his sexual failure to Chicken. She used to work in show business, but it’s not clear how notable, or marginal, her accomplishments were. Chicken is a brute, and though he wants the house, he tracks mud all over it, angering Lot. Things start to fall apart when Myrtle realizes Lot does a better job of bleaching his hair than she does with hers. Williams does a nice job as the hobbled but insistent Lot, and doesn’t overplay any of his foibles, avoiding campy pratfalls.
Lot is determined to deny Chicken ownership of the property by passing it on to Myrtle. Though played here by Richmond, who appears to be white, Chicken repeatedly calls attention to his complexion and explains to Myrtle that his mother had black relatives. Discrimination has contributed to his disenfranchisement, but he’s determined to gain ownership of the property via a previous agreement with Lot.
Chicken harbors great resentment against his half-brother and family, and in this production, his emotional expressions range from simmering rage to contempt. Thoughout the second half, he offers his views of the natural order of the world in plodding speeches, while also physically intimidating Myrtle. Richmond sustains the intensity, but the show slows to a crawl. In A Streetcar Named Desire
, Stanley Kowalski is a violent brute who’s concerned about the deed to a property, but he’s a fully realized character and we see different sides of him, including those Stella finds attractive. Here, Chicken comes across as merely angry although some of his story is sympathetic. Kuen is mostly entertaining as the delusional Myrtle, though at times her glee can be high-pitched, and it’s hard to understand her reaction to Chicken. Chicken’s extended time in the spotlight bogs down the show, which should have been trimmed.
The space at Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans is slightly improvised: The home’s bedroom is on the room’s small built-in, raised stage, and there’s no backstage. The home’s ground-floor kitchen and living room jut out at audience level, and though there’s limited seating, only the first two rows have a good vantage point.
Some of Williams’ best works feature characters struggling with their sexuality and the legacy or ownership of an estate (Streetcar
, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
). In Kingdom those elements pull the work in different directions, and though there are intense and funny moments in this show, they aren’t well resolved.
Aug. 7-9, 14-16
Kingdom of Earth
8 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans, 6200 St. Charles Ave.
Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans