What It Means To Disappear Here: UglyRhino comes to Port Royal

Underneath Tea Lounge, a popular Park Slope hang-out, is the remains of Port Royal, a once thriving 1970s night club, replete with tiki-style bamboo paneling and a red dance floor. At its center, surrounded by café tables, two actors rehearse a heated exchange. It’s an odd scene, to say the least. Port Royal in all of its dingy, random glory may not look like much, but it’s the answer to UglyRhino’s prayers—this ambitious and innovative Brooklyn-based theatre company run by Danny Sharron, Nicole Rosner, and Bryce Norbitz has been searching for a space like Port Royal for months as the location for their World Premier Production of What It Means To Disappear Here. Sharron believes a café is the ideal venue for a play both set and inspired by a coffee shop in Cartagena, Colombia.

Explains playwright Jeremy J. Kamps: “I was sitting in a coffee shop in Cartagena and overheard three people having a conversation that was getting into my personal space. Instead of trying to resist the universe, I decided to harness it and eavesdrop.” The conversation Kamps overheard was that of a middle-aged American man, a young Colombian woman, and their translator. The man wanted the woman to be his wife in America, and the translator was helping arrange the terms of the transaction. What It Means To Disappear Here dramatizes that scene, as well as significant moments in the couple’s past and future surrounding the juncture when two strangers decided to tie their fates together.

Kamps speaks passionately about his desire to raise awareness about U.S. and Colombia relations. Dramatizing the people he witnessed allowed him to “go beyond the politics and explore the human experience.” Yulieth, the Internet-ordered bride, attempts to reunite her family and find her true love, who has been “disappeared.” Yulieth’s epic journey echoes the grim political reality of “Plan Colombia,” a U.S.-backed drug war policy that brought devastation to an already war-torn nation. Kamps cites the African proverb, “When elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers,” as a guiding principal about why he chose Yulieth, an ordinary woman, to serve as the lens through which he tackles global issues. “You know about the elephants but not what life means from the people who are living within these circumstances,” Kamps explains.

Speaking about the best way to bring Yulieth’s story to life, Sharron said that although What It Means To Disappear Here would work on a proscenium stage, he did not believe that would be the most potent method of drawing an audience. Explains Sharron, “I think people get bored going to a traditional theater and sitting in an assigned seat and watching a play at a distance. There’s a hunger for theater now more than ever because of the way our world is turning with people behind computer screens with so little human interaction. People are starving to be in the same space and experience something together.”

The immersive staging of What It Means To Disappear Here and the reappropriating of Port Royal back into a community/performance space fits directly into the mission of UglyRhino: “The whole idea behind UglyRhino is that we want to make theater something people want to do on Friday night with their friends.” During the run, the space will feel as much like a Colombian coffee shop as possible. Colombian drinks and food will be served at the bar, the original Port Royal foosball and pool table will be operational, and music will be played after the Friday night performances.

When asked if Kamps ever envisioned his play staged as a site-specific work, he gushes enthusiastically about UglyRhino’s unconventional presentation. “It’s almost as though we’ve recreated the original experience of me listening in on that conversation. Isn’t that the essence of theater, to be in someone else’s moment? This is heightening that experience.”



What It Means To Disappear Here, by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Danny Sharron, runs at Port Royal, under the Tea Lounge (837 Union Street, Brooklyn) on Thursday and Friday nights at 8 p.m. through Friday, May 17. For tickets and further info: http://uglyrhinonyc.com/.

Contributor

Susan Soon He Stanton

Susan Soon He Stanton is a member of the Public Theatre's Emerging Writers Group, MaYi Playwrights Lab, and TerraNova's Groundbreakers. She was the inaugural recipient of the Van Lier Playwriting Fellowship at the Lark and received a feature film development grant from the Sloan Foundation. From Honolulu, Susan lives in New York City.

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