( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) This Piece is the First Produced Play By Khalil Kain, A Leading Actor, and Well-Known Urban Icon
ENSPIRE Contributor: Megan Grosfeld
During the Covid-19 pandemic, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC) has been developing “Lambs to Slaughter” by Khalil Kain, a new play with poetry and music, under the direction of Reginald L. Douglas. Khalil Kain is an urban icon who is renowned for his performances in the 1992 crime thriller “Juice,” the UPN/CW sitcom “Girlfriends” (2001-2008), and the title role in the Showtime biopic “The Tiger Woods Story.” Reginald L. Douglas is a distinguished developer of new works and advocates for new voices. From June 16 to July 3, NEC will present the play’s world premiere in an Off-Broadway production at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (West Village).
The play is a lyrical life drama of a single mother who has lost her older son to gun violence and must navigate the mourning process with the help of an upstairs neighbor and an ex-lover. She fears failing her younger son, who wrestles with his own demons and guilt. This NEC production is Kain’s first produced play. It blends compelling realistic dialogue with a verse that is crafted for call-and-response. The instrumental underscore is provided by Keith Edward Johnson. The verse, seamlessly woven into the story, provides an emotional release for the characters, exploding with heightened truth. At its heart, the play’s overall tone is sophisticated and nuanced, sensitively illuminating its compelling subject matter. What emerges is a daring and polished combination of spoken word, jazz, and family drama. Imagine a choreopoem with traditional structure and realism.
We viewed this play and suggest you get your tickets. The set gives you an intimate setting of an apartment with people living in pain. Gun violence is not a new topic of discussion but yet an epidemic plaguing communities. The audience for sure will be engaged as the dialogue is interesting, relatable, and entertaining. The plot twists make it more real as not all stories are predictable and this story will take you on an emotional rollercoaster.
Khalil Kain is a noted actor with national and international appeal. He is best known for his performance as Raheem Porter in “Juice,” in which he appeared with Tupac Shakur, Omar Epps, and Jermaine Hopkins as a quartet of young Harlem friends on a violent path that goes terribly wrong. He was the second (and longest-running) Darnell Wilkes, husband of Maya (played by Golden Brooks) in the long-running sitcom “Girlfriends.” He played the title role in Showtime’s “The Tiger Woods Story.” Other notable appearances include the films “For Colored Girls” and “Love Jones” and TV’s “Suddenly Susan,” “Friends,” “Blue Bloods,” “Living Single,” “Moesha,” “Angel” and “Sister, Sister.” His New York stage appearances include the Off-Broadway revival of “The Great McDaddy.” Most recently (January 2022), he co-wrote, directed and appeared in “The Millennial,” an original film for BET+.
Kain writes, “With a level understanding of self, I am a writer first.” Writing runs in his family: his father, Gylan Kain, is a founding member of the Original Last Poets (along with Felipe Luciano and David Nelson) and personally created the aggressive, rhythmic delivery of spoken word aka performance poetry as it is known today.
Thematically, “Lambs to Slaughter” is a love letter to the Black family and the strength of the Black mother. It also aims to reveal the full truth and humanity of the Black man, his rage and tenderness, joy and pain, the heart behind the masks people wear, and the fences society forces them to have. As the title suggests, it is a kaddish for the many young men who have lived their lives one decision away from death. Kain says, “As a father, I know the vulnerability of us as a people and of our family structure. Every time you send your kid into the street, you worry how vulnerable they are.”
In writing “Lambs to Slaughter,” Kain issued a recording by the same name which is published by True Groove Records, whose catalog says, “Weaving Hip-Hop, Classic Soul, Funk, Spoken word, and a healthy dose of Old School Rap, the recording defies category. Like Khalil Kain himself, it is an American original.”
In the production, Kain portrays Paul, an ex-con who has turned his life around and seeks to save Joan, the play’s tragic heroine. The parts of Joan and her son, Emmett, are played by Adiagha Faizah and Terayle Hill. Athena, Joan’s caring upstairs neighbor, will be played by Shaquila Gooden.
Terayle Hill (Emmett) plays the character of Marquise in the “Step Up” series on STARZ, for which he wrote and performed an acclaimed verse narrative, “Marquise’s Interlude,” that was featured in the series’ season 2 finale. In the track Marquise, Hill’s character, relates his life’s story, focusing on his rough upbringing on the streets, interspersed with witty boasts about his talent. The rhyme is delivered by Marquise through a prison phone to a producer portrayed by double amputee dancer Eric Graise, as a last-ditch attempt to prove his talent and rap his way out of jail. Hill is also known for the role of Trey in the Netflix series “Coobra Kai” and the role of FBI informant George Sams in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Adiagha Faizah (Joan) has appeared on-camera in “Brooklyn. Blue Sky.” for BET Networks and “Absent” for Steven Chua Productions, among others. On stage, she has appeared at the Workshop Theater (NYC), The Players (NYC), National Black Theater, and Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab. She was an ensemble vocalist on Mariah Carey’s Day Dream World Tour at Madison Square Garden. She won Negro Ensemble Company’s 5-min Monologue Competition in 2020.
Shaquila Gooden (Athena) has had leads in three indie films and has appeared onstage in “Midnight Mugshot” at Alvin Ailey City Group Theatre, among others.
Director Reginald L. Douglas is a stage director and new play development producer with a passion for strong storytelling. He is Associate Artistic Director of Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, and was previously Artistic Producer of City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh. In New York, he has directed at Harlem Stage, Wild Project, Signature Center, Drama League, The Lark (where he was the inaugural Van Lier Fellow in Directing), and New York Theatre Workshop (where he was an inaugural 2050 Directing Fellow). He has developed and directed works by many noted writers including Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Dael Orlandersmith, and more. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National New Play Network and is an active member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, where he serves on the Anti-Racism Best Practices Task Force and Board Nominating Committee. He received the National Theatre Conference’s 2020 Emerging Professional Award.
Musical Director Keith Edward Johnson has been musical director/composer for “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage (Pulitzer Prize), “Spunk” by George C. Wolfe, “A Song of Sheba,” “Last Poem Before Dying” and “Singin Wid a Sword” (Fringe Audience Favorite, 2009). He has scored three films. He earned an honors BA from NYU (Humanities; Acting/Creative Writing) and studied guitar, piano, and voice at Jazzmobile and Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. He has toured with Jon Hendriks Vocestra (jazz vocalist), Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (band leader, singer, keyboards), Sheryl Murdock, and Brian McKnight. He was senior director of the College & Adult Program and project director for the Black Male Initiative for the Creative Arts Team (CAT) at CUNY. He was the Artistic Director of The American Theatre of Harlem for 18 years. He was writer, producer, and director of the 30th anniversary upfront for BET television.
The set designer is Romello Huins. The lighting designer is John D. Alexander. The costume designer is Katherine Roberson. Sound designer is Julian Evans.
Buy tickets on The Negro Ensemble Company here.