Presented by Flat Earth Theatre
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Directed by Michael Hisamoto
Puppetry by Amy Lehrmitt
Intimacy direction by Betsy S. Goldman
Critique by Kitty Drexel
Disclaimer: I auditioned for this production, and was not cast. It is my opinion that only a jackass would allow rejection, a natural process of auditioning, to taint their review.
Trigger warnings: mentioned sexual abuse, mentioned sex work (which is real work)
(Watertown, MA) There is a lot of ambiguity in Aguirre-Sacasa’s King of Shadows. He doesn’t communicate a clear message to his audience. Specifically, he doesn’t clarify what it is he’s trying to say. At no fault of Flat Earth, Hisamoto or the cast, Aguirre-Sacasa implies in only uncertain terms that teen homelessness is bad, rich grad students with savior complexes are ineffective, and fairytales are fun. The details are a mishmash of complications. Flat Earth does a good job with the script, but Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t doing them any favors.
In King of Shadows, privileged grad student Jessica (Laura Chowenhill) allows homeless, gay teen Nihar (Trinidad Ramkissoon) to stay in her home for two evenings at his plea for sanctuary. He swears that the King of Shadows and his Green Lady are out to steal him from the streets. They have stolen many children from the streets. Jessica offers Nihar a room in exchange for more information on the missing kids. Her teenage sister Sarah (Abigail Erdlatz) is bewitched by Nihar. A skeptical cop, Eric (Matt Crawford) wants to prove that Nihar is up to no good. Mental illness is pitted against fantastical events. We watch and see who is conning whom.
Hisamoto’s clear vision is why Flat Earth’s production is so successful. Where Aguirre-Sacasa is vague, Hisamoto is candid. We are shown by Hisamoto who these characters are even though Aguirre-Sacasa’s dialogue is uncertain. The cast fleshes these characters out and the production has life. One might not always agree with Hisamoto’s choices, but his decisive opinion is far preferred to Aguirre-Sacasa’s refusal to express one at all.
Ramkissoon’s performance is a highlight of the production. His fine work gives credence to Nihar’s extravagant story. We are uncertain of Nihar’s past, but we believe his trauma.
Chowenhill as Jessica is the liberal-when-convenient, white lady who insists she isn’t racist, but if you don’t give her space – Right Now – she will ask for the manager.
The shadow puppetry in King of Shadows is a silent character in the play. Lehrmitt with Libby Schap and lighting designer PJ Strachman home grow a villain from missing signs and flashlights. It’s creepy and beautiful at the same time.
It could very well be that Aguirre-Sacasa wants his audience to come to its own conclusion about King of Shadows’s ending. Perhaps he’s attempting impartiality. Or, maybe he is implying that there isn’t an end to the story; his heroes could keep adventuring after the lights come up. It would be nice to know what he intended. Attend King of Shadows for the effects and the character work. Try to see past the script for its story.
King of Shadows reminds us that homeless kids are invisible to the system; they don’t exist. The current President of the US would like to make it harder for LGBTQ+ adults to adopt kids that desperately need homes. He is no imaginary boogeyman; his evil is real. Lambda Legal works with homeless LGBTQIA+ youth. Y2Y is a student-run overnight shelter in Harvard Square for homeless young adults. BAGLY: The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, is a youth-led, adult-supported social support organization, committed to social justice and creating, sustaining, and advocating for programs, policies, and services for the LGBTQ youth community. Each of these organizations is worthy of your time, respect and, if you have it, funds.