Here are a few names I’d like you to remember as I begin to tell you about a play:
Steven Elliott Jackson, Playwright
Tara Mohan, Production Stage Manager
Brandon Conclaves, Lighting Designer
Sonia Valiant, Stage Manager
Kwaku Okyere, Actor
Conor Ling, Actor
Tanisha Taitt, Director
We’ve all been to many plays. They have become so grandiose that sometimes you can feel as though you are lost in a movie at the trendiest movie house. It’s almost so encompassing that one could lose track of the plot and purpose. But when you take “The Seat Next To The King”, there is no mistaking it’s plot. There is no mistaking it’s purpose.
Opening scene. Just a simple stage set to dim lighting. Songs of hope and of an era almost long forgotten play reminders in the background. A men’s room. A young white man enters and takes his place in front of the urinal. Moments later a black man enters the men’s room. He also takes his place in front of the urinal. They notice one another in an awkward exchange of glances. The audience, unsure of whether to giggle, feels the erotic undertone or is aghast at the subtle vulgarity and this is where their polarizing, political and unexpected affair will begin to transfix you.
I had an opportunity to briefly meet Playwright, Steven Elliott. I learned quickly of his passion for a little project he called “The Seat Next To The King”. He shared with me where the inspiration occurred. It wasn’t at some obscure niche in this vibrating city. It was incredibly unassuming. As he sat in the burger house under the golden arches, Steven began to pour out his soul onto a piece of paper. Like a river flowing through his mind, I romanticized as he shared his story with me. In less than an earthly hour he had managed to write one of the most compelling love stories I feel ever to be told.
I sat in the audience watching this piece of work transform the audience word by word, opening our minds to the possibilities of a love forbidden in it’s time capsule. A moving and utterly relevant story in the temperature of today’s political climate.
My eyes were moved to tears in only twenty minutes. I fought them back. I’m reviewing this, I want to remain objective. I want to tell you the truth. I had no idea it was going to transform me. The heartache as I watched those two talented actors bare their souls as the characters revealed themselves scene by scene. The layers of self realization were literally heart wrenching.
Just when you thought all joy was lost the incredibly sharp delivery of whit by actor Kwaku Okyere against the angst of Conor Ling’s performance was a buffet of emotion. I laughed, I cried, I learned. I grew aware of my own humanity. Their performances were completely riveting. Scene after scene pulled me deeper and deeper into this affair that I will certainly always remember.
From the music, lighting, stage setting, and directing, this play was on point in every way. The hope of one more chance at love and understanding it’s a human right to have and to be loved.
It was wonderful meeting many of the contributors of this evening’s performance. Tanisha Taitt’s directing was clearly precision and she looked stunning opening night. Conor Ling and I had a moment to chat together and I was a bit star struck I must say. I look forward to following his work; that man is going places. What can I say about Kwaku Okyere? Well I almost waited as long for him to stop for a photo op as one would for Beyoncé but when he finally pulled himself away from his adoring audience he was gracious and just as bodacious as he was during scene stealing moments of the performance.
A blog like mine can almost diminish the importance of a piece of work such as this. This was not just a throw away love story. This was an important piece of an untold (fictional) narrative of it’s time regarding the black community. Even more so, untold stories of many forgotten beautiful black gay men who had no voice at all through discrimination coming from polar angles. This is a tribute to not just the gay community but the need for an awakening of the struggles that continue to exist within our multi-cultural society.
I know there are hundreds of great shows to see in this grand city, but why settle for less then what’s fit for a king?
4 kisses out of 5
Now on stage
The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West
Sept 17-Oct 1
tickets $29 service charges may apply
Edited by Mary Ellen Monk
Photo credit Michael Thomas
Selfie by Bruce Christopher