During the Covid-19 pandemic, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC) developed Khalil Kain’s “Lambs to Slaughter”, a new piece with poetry and music, under the direction of Reginald L. Douglas. Khalil Kain is an urban icon known 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 advocate for new voices. From June 16 to July 3, NEC will present the world premiere of the play in an Off-Broadway production at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (West Village).
The play is a lyrical drama about the life of a single mother who lost her eldest son to gun violence and must navigate the grieving process with the help of an upstairs neighbor and an ex. lover. She worries about letting down her youngest son, who struggles with his own demons and guilt. This NEC production is the first piece produced by Kain. It mixes compelling realistic dialogue with verses designed for call and response. Instrumental underlining is provided by Keith Edward Johnson. The verse, seamlessly integrated into the story, provides an emotional release for the characters, exploding with heightened truth. At its heart, the overall tone of the piece is sophisticated and nuanced, sensitively illuminating its fascinating subject matter. What emerges is a bold and refined combination of spoken word, jazz and family drama. Imagine a chorepoem with traditional structure and realism.
Khalil Kain is an acclaimed 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 friends from Harlem on a violent path gone horribly wrong. He was the second (and oldest) Darnell Wilkes, husband of Maya (played by Golden Brooks) on the 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 the television shows “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 starred in ‘The Millennial’, an original film for BET+.
Kain writes, “With a level of self-understanding, 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 such 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 his tenderness, his joy and his pain, the heart behind the masks people wear and the closures society forces them to have. Moreover, as the title suggests, it is a kaddish for the many young men who have lived their lives near 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 child to the streets, you worry about their vulnerability.”
In the process of writing “Lambs to Slaughter”, Kain released a recording of the same name which is released by True Groove Records, whose catalog reads: “Weaving Hip-Hop, classic Soul, Funk, Spoken word, and a healthy dose of Old School Rap, the recording defies any category. Like Khalil Kain himself, it’s an American original.
In the upcoming production, Kain will play Paul, an ex-con who has turned his life around and seeks to save Joan, the play’s tragic heroine. The roles of Joan and her son, Emmett, are played by Adiagha Faizah and Terayle Hill. Athena, Joan’s caring neighbor, will be played by Shaquila Gooden.
Terayle Hill (Emmett) plays the character Marquise in the STARZ series “Step Up,” for which he wrote and performed an acclaimed verse tale, “Marquise’s Interlude,” which was featured in the Season 2 finale of series. In the track Marquise, Hill’s character tells the story of her life, focusing on her difficult street upbringing, interspersed with witty bluster about her talent. The rhyme is delivered by Marquise via a prison phone to a producer played by double-amputee dancer Eric Graise, as a last attempt to prove his talent and rap his release from prison. Hill is also known for playing Trey in the Netflix series “Coobra Kai” and playing FBI informant George Sams in the movie “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Adiagha Faizah (Joan) 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 singer on Mariah Carey’s Day Dream World Tour at Madison Square Garden. She won the Negro Ensemble Company’s 5 Minute Monologue competition in 2020.
Shaquila Gooden (Athena) has had leading roles in three independent films and appeared on stage in “Midnight Mugshot” at the Alvin Ailey City Group Theatre, among others.
Director Reginald L. Douglas is a new theater development director and producer with a passion for strong storytelling. He is associate artistic director of the Studio Theater in Washington, DC and was previously artistic producer of the City Theater Company in Pittsburgh. In New York he has directed Harlem Stage, Wild Project, Signature Center, Drama League, The Lark (where he was the first Van Lier Fellow in Directing) and New York Theater Workshop (where he was the first 2050 Directing Fellow). He has developed and produced works by many renowned writers, including Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Dael Orlandersmith and many others. 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 the Nominating Committee of the advice. He received the 2020 Emerging Professional Award from the National Theater Conference.
Music Director Keith Edward Johnson served as Music Director/Composer for Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Ruined’, George C. Wolfe’s ‘Spunk’, ‘A Song of Sheba’, ‘Last Poem Before Dying’ and ‘Singin Wid a Sword” (Marginal Audience Favourite, 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. Has toured with Jon Hendriks Vocestra (jazz vocalist), Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (bandleader, vocalist, keyboards), Sheryl Murdock and Brian McKnight. project for the Black Male Initiative for the Creative Arts Team (CAT) at CUNY He was Artistic Director of the American Theater of Harlem for 18 years He was a writer, producer and director for BET Television’s 30th Anniversary.
The scenographer is Romello Huins. The lighting designer is John D. Alexander. The costume designer is Katherine Roberson. The sound designer is Julian Evans.