Written and Directed by Jake Shore
Presented by Spin Cycle & JCS Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs Through 8.5.23
The Vino Theater, 274 Morgan Avenue
by Emily Cordes on 7.11.23
Isaac J. Conner, John Torres, and Leyah Rose in Try For the Kingdom. Photo by Riley Black.
BOTTOM LINE: In the limbo of a Brooklyn apartment, three addicts wrestle with faith, stability, and interconnection.
Addiction in its many forms may well be the truest representation of existential turmoil, revealing the pain and paradox beneath the human condition and our faulty attempts to numb or reconcile life’s quandaries. Fittingly, Jake Shore’s Try For the Kingdom uses the subject as a window into such themes, its look into the lives of three junkies offering a deeper exploration of our collective need for meaning, connection, and stability in a fractured world.
Set in a dingy Brooklyn apartment, Try For the Kingdom follows Raymond (John Torres), Moe (Isaac J. Conner), and Eri (Leyah Rose), all drug-addicted squatters equally dependent on, and poised against, the world outside its walls. Tensions run high as the three pursue their latest fix, guard the squat against neighborhood rivals and Eri’s volatile ex-lover, and await news from Alice, their terminally ill dealer whose hospital stays may or may not be a ruse to score prescriptions. Faced with the dilemma of biding their time or seeking questionable (and risky) alternatives, the characters bond over philosophical musings and personal disclosures, their efforts alternately easing and worsening the trials they face.
Navigating surreal dreams, fragile mental health, and the impact of a recent miscarriage, newcomer Eri leans into their circumstances as refuge from her vagabond former life, finding in her companions the “family” she never had. As his PTSD flashbacks and withdrawal symptoms worsen, Iraq veteran Raymond rages against God and man, his history with Moe and nascent fondness toward Eri just barely keeping his violence in check. Mercurial and gender-fluid, Moe finds himself caught between his friends when his bids at humor or solidarity fail to de-escalate conflict, or his own paranoia and instability take root. As the passing hours erode trust, heighten desperation, and reveal darker prospects, inner and outer pressures threaten to shatter the home the three have built.
Gritty, nuanced, and compelling, Shore’s script calls to mind such existentialist classics as Waiting For Godot and No Exit, particularly in its characters’ fraught reliance on absentee outside forces, and capacity to find hell and heaven in each other. Its triangulated personal conflicts, heightened when individual members leave or return to the apartment, keep us rapt, as alliances shift and new information continually reroutes scenes’ emotional climate. We may find ourselves as unmoored as the characters themselves, and similarly grasping for clarity when it eludes us. The play’s dialogue yields a similar ebb and flow, as tense staccato banter gives way to lyrical musings about God, fate, dreams, and our role in the universe.
Dysfunction and checkered morality aside, the play’s characters also display striking depth and insight, reminding us of the humanity of those society maligns or casts away. There’s a raw beauty in their capacity to support each other, and in the unexpected moments of camaraderie, tenderness, and hope they glean from shared struggle. Moreover, in their tirades against a world that shaped and ultimately abandoned them, they raise valid points about the violence, predatory capitalism, and tribalist mentality fueling our lives, and mainstream culture’s self-importance and blatant denial of the hungers that drive us all.
This paradox is, perhaps, one of Try For the Kingdom’s key messages: society’s rejection of such outliers as addicts, trauma survivors, or the impoverished is ultimately self-perpetuating, and fueled by discomfort with our own personal and collective shadows. By turning these individuals into pariahs or placing them on the fringes, we effectively deny our humanity and further disown the vulnerabilities and interdependence to which it gives rise. While our existential striving and deeper cravings may not always take on such extreme forms, we are all flawed beings in an uncertain world, and only through grace and compassion can we find a path forward.
(Try For the Kingdom plays at The Vino Theater, 274 Morgan Avenue, from July 6 through August 5, 2023. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30. Tickets are $22 and are available at sourgrapesproductions.com.)
Try For the Kingdom is written and directed by Jake Shore. Presented by Spin Cycle & JCS Theater Company. Scenic Design by Jake Shore. Costume Design by Brynne Oster-Bainnson. Lighting Design by Eric Norbury. Stage Manager is Samuel Crowley.
The cast is John Torres, Isaac J. Conner, and Leyah Rose.