Theme park culture is the focus of the world premiere of Richard Hellesen's Kingdom, his satire of big business and family entertainment, opening May 6 by the Denver Center Theatre Company.
Enlivened by singers and dancers and costumed characters, the staging by Israel Hicks at DCTC's Space Theatre, shifts between the corporate offices of a southern California theme park and the park itself. Public illusion and private reality collide when one of the park's idealistic architects -- called an "imaginator" -- discovers the company's plan for expanding and the impact it will have on surrounding low-income neighborhoods.
Previews began April 29. Performances continue to June 5.
The seeds of the play germinated when Hellesen got to thinking about how parents allow companies to control the imaginations of children, he told Playbill On-Line. When his son was younger, Hellesen was reading a bedtime story and knew that he could easily pop a cassette tape of the story into a player and leave the room.
"If I choose, as a busy parent, I can hand over my child to the company," Hellesen said. "That struck a chord with me. I started thinking about the company -- what our relationship is with them, what our relationship to them is through our children." He was troubled how "we don't qualms about making [corporations] the middle man with our children's imaginations."
Ideas for Kingdom, which is about a company that offers us a "license to dream" without looking at the "larger repercussions," began to brew. The play, he agreed, can be an allegory for any large, controlling organization.
Hellesen does admit he grew up in Orange County, CA., ground zero for Disneyland, but he never worked at the theme park.
The cast also includes Susan Spencer, William Denis, Erik Tieze, Randy Moore, Vanessa Quijas, Rocio Valenzuela and (playing the ebullient "Castle Kids" who frolic with Gus the Goose) Ashton Byrum, Michael McGurk and Jacqueline Maloney.
Kingdom won the 1998 Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award from the National Theatre Conference. The play was read at the 1998 US WEST TheatreFest. This is Hellesen's debut at DCTC. Hellesen has written plays for children and adults, and his work has been seen at regional theatres including South Coast Repertory, Geva Theatre, The B Street Theatre and the Idaho and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals.
Carolyn Dyer choreographs the "show" sequences in Kingdom, a play with-music. Music is by Lee Stametz, with lyrics by Hellesen.
Designers are Andrew V. Yelusich (set and costumes), Charles R. MacLeod (lighting) and Christopher A. Ruggeri (sound).
Tickets are $23-34. Call (800) 641-1222 or (303) 893-4100.
-- By Kenneth Jones