Keepin’ it Classy: New play makes world debut at the Douglass Theatre

Winsphere Jones’ original production “Thy Kingdom Come”, which premiered at the Douglass Theatre Feb. 8-9, was delightful to experience. The play was a tasteful blend of elements of “Hamlet”, “King Lear” and “Dr. Faustus” set in counterfactual America in the Kingdom of New Amsterdam. Jones evokes the most powerful themes of the Western literary canon: the corrupting influence of power; the nature of sin and judgment; the dichotomy of good and evil; remorse for old sins and reaping what you’ve sown; the biblical struggle between brothers and the quest for the paternal blessing.
Individual performances absolutely exude charisma and emotional dexterity. Jonny Hollingshed, Jr. absolutely stole the show. Hollingshed seems to be an experienced veteran actor, and this really shows up in his performance as King Edward of New Amsterdam, a man grieving from his sinful past as a brutally expansionary monarch. Exhibiting a vivacity that can dominate the entire stage like a monarch in his court, Hollingshed demonstrates his mastery of the whole gauntlet of emotions as his character encounters court intrigue, death and betrayal while his whole world crumbles around him.
The actors C.J. Holston, Jr. and Tim Lee, who play Edward’s sons, Alexander and Victor, complement each other’s performances well. Holton portrays Alexander as the archetypical older brother with the slightly arrogant, womanizing tendencies one might expect in a man who, due to his birthright, has received attention all of his life. In contrast, Tim Lee plays Victor as the archetypical brooding, jealous younger brother who never seems to get what he wants. Victor still grieves his mother’s untimely passing, but now he also laments the loss of his beloved Princess Gwenell, who is betrothed under duress to Alexander. I think anyone familiar with the biblical stories of Cain and Abel, or Jacob and Esau, will know what happens next.
The two servants of the house, a maid named Mary and a butler known as Ebru of the South (pronounced like Hebrew minus the H), are not at all the lowly servants they appear to be. Bohdana Conyers displays a solemnity and gravity appropriate for Mary, whose history is one of tragedy, bloodshed and death. Not only does she hold a secret with grave implications for everyone she knows, but her devotion and love for Prince Victor spells doom for many other characters. In startling contrast to Mary is Ebru (performed by the delightfully devious Ronnie Murphy), an affable, gregarious butler who tends to remain in the background. His friendly façade is only an illusion; he keenly interposes himself as Victor’s and Mary’s advisor, leading them onward to their inevitable fate. Something about the way the light falls on Murphey’s face when he plays Ebru gives him a convincingly diabolical look.
The other actresses deserve just as much praise. Kuan-Yin Coleman as Contessa, Sonya Heilig as Princess Gwenell, Barbara Walker as Queen Isabella and Teia Roberts as Queen Victoria each gave fantastic and believable performances, each with Victorian charm and grace. I would love to see a revival of this cast sometime.
“Thy Kingdom Come” is an incredible drama that can engage a contemporary audience with some of the oldest themes of the Western tradition. If you have the chance to see a production of this play, or any of Winsphere Jones’ productions, I heartily recommend it.