Though it took wading through a “rabbit hole” of plays for director Marlo Rodriguez and the rest of the New City Players (NCP) artistic team to settle on Cry Old Kingdom for their second mainstage production of their 22-23 season, she ultimately couldn’t be happier that this was the play that would go on to become the one with which she is now making her professional directorial debut.
“I read it and I fell in love with it . . . It was something that I hadn’t read before, or ever seen really produced in Florida theatre,” she described.
Finding herself at the helm of this project comes as the culmination of a long interest in directing that evolved from an initial focus on acting. She also finds herself inspired by what she describes as the “great” directors she’s had a chance to work with—including NCP Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Price, who joins her as assistant director for this production—to wonder what it would be like to be the person who helps guide actors through the creative process and facilitate the vision of a story.
After exploring the practice throughout her college experience at Florida Atlantic University, she went on to develop her skills as assistant director of Once on this Island with Slow Burn Theatre Company. More recently, she completed a directing fellowship with Asolo Repertory Theatre, where she spent three months assistant directing two of the company’s mainstage shows.
“That was a really great experience for me, because I learned a lot,’ she described.
Now, she has the chance to showcase her growing talent in a production of Cry Old Kingdom, a play that she finds to be a uniquely compelling one, in part because of the unique beauty of playwright Jeff Augustin’s writing.
“There’s so much space in the story for us to build from, so much possibility… to me, it felt like a poem,” she said.
“There were already images in my head about what we can do with sound, and lighting, kind of like a canvas that really helped me think… gosh, I can take this story anywhere.”
The project has also been a special one for Rodiguez because of the chance the play’s subject matter offered her to delve more deeply into her own Haitian heritage.
“There was a lot that I wasn’t aware of, that my family didn’t tell me about until I started inquiring,” she describes, speaking of the intensive research she did during her pre-production process.
The play, which follows a Haitian artist in exile during the oppressive regime of dictator Francois Duvalier, is also one that explores a period in Haitian history that is seldom talked about, despite its tremendous significance both to the country of Haiti and the world at large.
“This story in Haiti is something that has affected the world. The Duvalier regime has large impacts, and most people don’t know that,” she said.
She also notes that, despite the fact that Florida alone is home to a population of half a million Haitian-Americans, their stories are rarely explored in our area’s theatrical world.
“It’s important to broaden our horizons, and show people, different stories, different cultures,” she says.
“And I think specifically with Haiti, it’s a place that holds so much culture, resilience, and beauty.”
Rodriguez also noted the particular modern relevance of the play’s focus on what role artists can and should play during times of revolution.
“Being an artist myself, living in the world as it is in 2023, where we have things going like, insurrection, and banning of books, and banning drag shows, and legislation that restricts control over my body…and I think back to during the pandemic, a lot of protests about George Floyd’s death… I think all of those feelings that were stirring in me during those times, there was a lot of advocating I had to do, and pushing back against problematic systems that we had, and still have in the theatre industry,” she explains.
She also noted the importance of producing the work of diverse artists like Black Haitian-American playwright Augustin, and like the diverse cast and crew she describes herself as the “luckiest girl in the world” to have been able to work with.
“We all have worked together, crossed paths in some way, and these are some of my favorite artists ever… I’m so grateful to be working with people who are so committed, and considerate, and kind, and it’s been like a really safe space for me and they’re a pretty great group of people,” she said.
She also noted how supported she’s felt as a member of the NCP ensemble during Cry Old Kingdom’s production process, as well as how excited she is for her future with the company.
“I love the work that we do involving our community, and I hope people check out all of the extra things that we do, outside of just the production,” she says, referring to the extensive line-up of events planned to provide audience members with additional opportunities to explore the themes of the play and to experience the work of Haitian artists.