- Growing Up Bronx
Though this is a small production (and by small I mean only that its not like the lion king which is a huge production), don’t let the word small fool you here. Katori Hall put together an amazing, huge theatrical work with this show. The power of the actors comes across in their 5 star performances. There is an undeniable strength in this show! Director Emily Mendelsohn does a great job!
The play takes place 10 years after the mass genocide that happened in Rwanda where the Hutu killed many Tutsis in Africa. The numbers of dead range anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000. For more on this event if you are not familiar, there is a film called “Hotel Rwanda” that does an amazing job of sharing this powerful, yet tragic story. This play depicts the lives of 3 young men who’s fathers will be coming back home after 10 years in prison for their crimes against the Tutsis.
I had the pleasure of watching one of the actors deliver a monologue from the show this past Tuesday at Neir’s Tavern. I also have the honor of knowing him personally through performing in the poetry circuit. Melech Meir, known as Distinguish of the well known team Untamed Talent is the person that actually told me about the production. After hearing what the play was about last week I told him that I would be bringing my wife to see the show for her birthday today, and I did.
On the way out we saw Melech and the other cast members greeting everyone from the audience. He was wiping tears from his face. You can still see the intensity and power in his expression in the image below. I told him I noticed the tears as he was bowing post show and that I felt his power and intensity throughout the entire show. Melech is a poet, and he brings that poetic prowess to his performance on stage. When I mentioned the tears he said “ARod, I had to take a minute to gather myself man, it gets really intense.” Melech definitely gets into his character “Bosco” during the show. Bosco is one of the boys who’s dad is due to come home after 10 years in jail. Bosco sympathizes with the Hutu cause, this viewpoint is a major source of conflict between him and one of his good friends Vincent.
While exiting we also saw Sidiki Fofana who plays “Innocent”. We’ve never met in person, that I am aware of, but when I saw him I was sure I’ve seen him in the past. I approached him and asked him “Have we met, I recognize you?”. He said “I’ve done a lot of work”. I haven’t quite placed it, but I know that face. A little research indicates that he’s been in many films and several plays. I can’t point it just yet, but I know this face! Sidiki like the rest of the cast did an amazing job. His character seemed to be neutral, caught between the views held by Vincent and Bosco, but seemed to side with Bosco when all was said and done. His character provided some comic relief from time to time during tense periods between Bosco and Vincent.
The young man who plays Vincent, which is the main character of the show is a powerfully built, handsome young man named Terrell Wheeler (couldn’t find any links to his profiles, etc. If any of you have his info, please pass it on and I will update). This guy is an amazing actor as well. You can feel his conflict and struggles throughout the entire play. He struggles with what’s right and wrong, the things that his father did, and how he feels about those things. His father was known and revered as one of the fiercest of the Hutu killers, “that’s what they say” whispers Vincent with his head down. His father is admired by many, but not by Vincent, he never agrees with what the Hutu men did.
Khadim Diop plays Emmanuel, a young man that is taunted by the other boys. His character believes that he was born to a virgin, much like Jesus. The other boys tease him and speak of his mother as a local whore that says he doesn’t have a father because she can’t even tell which of the many men she has bedded is his dad. If I recall correctly the abuse comes mostly from Bosco and Innocent, Vincent tends to stay out of the other fellas abusive moments. So much so that more than once he put Bosco on his butt with a strike.
Not to be outdone the women of the show deliver powerful performances. You can hear the experience in LaTonia Antoinette’s voice as she speaks and sings her character “Esperance’s” lines. She and Vincent have an interesting dynamic and you’d be a fool not to see that she is Vincent’s love interest. It’s such a complex and intense situation seeing as though Vincent’s father was one of the men that attacked Esperance and her family. Bosco and Vincent come to intense conflicts over the topic of Esperance.
Mama played by Suzanne Darrell is exactly what the name says, she’s a mama. She doesn’t hesitate to put Vincent in his place with a slap to the face when his words get out of line. Mama is super happy and excited that her husband is finally coming home. However she is concerned that he’s been in jail for 10 years yet she has a daughter that is younger than 10. Oops. Consequently this is the topic that gets Vincent slapped.
Felicite, Vincent’s half sister is played by Naja Jack (couldn’t find any contact information for her). She plays a little girl that loves seconds when it comes to food. She does a great job and is very cute. I look forward to hearing more about her career as the years pass.
Both of these women are super talented and contribute a warm feeling of family and love to the play. Vincent Sr, has a short, yet meaningful role in this play. He is played by Raphael Agbune.
The rest of the crew is made up of folks that provide backup vocals, supportive acting, and play demons that torment the actors from time to time. They are referred to as “Guhahamuka” which according to some research is a term that came after the genocide in Rwanda and is synonymous with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
In alphabetical order here are the supporting actors: Edgar Cancinos, Kimarra Canonnier, Franceli Chapman (spoke at the end of the play with information about what they are doing at Castillo theatre), Rain Jack, Lorenzo Jackson, Lauryn Simone Jones, Niara Nyabingi, Andrea Rachel, Mariel Reyes, Starshima Trent.
It should be noted that some of the supporting actors were relatively young, and the Castillo theater gives these young people an opportunity to showcase and develop their talents. They are doing great things there.
There are rumors of this production becoming a film, and personally I think that if the big shot film producers overlook this very talented cast and go with “big established names” they’d be making a big mistake. I wish Katori and all the cast members continued success. I enjoyed this show very much and I am glad that Melech told me about it. I highly recommend that you get in there and watch the show during it’s current run. For more information go to Castillo.org.
Just a life long New Yorker sharing the journey through my lens. Please take note of a post’s date. The views I express here are subject to change and evolving as I grow and learn.