BWW Reviews: Strikingly Realistic WHEN I COME TO DIE Comes to the Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Dramatic, powerful, and intense describes When I Come To Die now playing at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Copaken Stage. Nathan Louis Jackson, playwright in residence for KC Repertory, wrote the thought-provoking look at a prisoner on death roll that cheats death at his execution, only to have to relive waiting to die.
Jackson is one of fourteen playwrights that received the Mellon grants and is the first playwright in residence for the KC Rep. The Mellon grant gives support for three-year residences at theatres across the country. Eric Rosen the Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director Kyle Hatley will provide guidance for Jackson as he develops two new plays for the KC Rep, and Hatley will direct the new works. The grant also provides for him to lead workshops, participate in outreach programs, and take an active role in the season planning.
Will Cobbs takes the lead role of Damon Robinson, the prisoner known in the community as a Miracle for having survived his scheduled execution. His performance is strong and powerful with superb emphasis to make the dialogue effective, yet his conversation so smooth and natural that you feel he is Damon Robinson. At moments when he becomes angry or emotional, the audience easily feels it through his dynamic performance.
Conan McCarty makes his KC Rep debut as James "Roach" Teagle, the death roll prisoner who occupies the cell next to Robinson. He magnificently exposes the audience to the insanity that must fill the mind of someone knowing when he is to die. It is easy to feel his pain, fear, and attribution of his pending execution. His performance is outstanding as he begs Robinson to help him write the last words he will ever speak.
Robinson's family has not visited or acknowledged him in a long time, until his sister Chantel Robinson comes to the prison to visit him. Janae Nicole Mitchell plays the sister that visits him after the botched execution. As she speaks of the declining health of her daughter, you can hear and feel the desperation in her voice. When refused help by her brother the anger and fear in her voice dominates the stage.
Kevin Cristaldi plays the prison Father Adrian Crouse, who befriends Robinson and attempts to comfort him as he realizes he again has to face his pending death. The beginning of Cristaldi's performance is rough and sounds somewhat forced. As the story progresses so does his performance until it seems as natural as those the other actors have demonstrated.
When I Come To Die has a few moments of humor but at times can be very depressing and emotionally draining as the two prisoners explore their own demise. Leaving the theater, I had wished there had been more humor mixed in to give my mind and emotions a chance to take a breath.
As the curtain rises, you feel as if you have stepped into a prison cell. The scenery designed by Jack Magaw and Courtney O'Neil is drab, cold, and perfectly realistic and when coupled with the sound design by Joseph Concha gives the impression that you too are a prisoner and occupying a cell next to Robinson and Roach.
When I Come To Die continues at the KC Repertory through March 16. Purchase tickets at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre website, by phone at 816-235-2700, or at the box office of the Copaken Stage inside the H&R Block building at 13th and Main in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.