The hit Off-Broadway smash, The Castle, will celebrate its one-year anniversary at Off Broadway's New World Stages on Saturday, April 25, 2009. Conceived and directed by David Rothenberg and written in collaboration with - and performed by - Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Angel Ramos and Casimiro Torres, all of whom tell their own real-life stories, The Castle has become a critical hit and an instrument of education and change within the New York State Department of Correctional Services system.
The Castle, produced by Eric Krebs and Chase Mishkin, is a unique theatrical event that presents a searing, first-hand look at the lives of four formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and their re-entry into society.
The Castle, an imposing upper west side residential facility for the formerly incarcerated, was opened (and is maintained) by The Fortune Society, a non-profit organization that helps put men and women, recently emerged from prison, on their re-entry into society. The organization was established by Mr. Rothenberg following the success of the 1967 Off-Broadway play Fortune and Men's Eyes - itself, a play about a young man's experience in a youth detention center.
"Fortune Society, The Castle and now this play, The Castle, came into being because of another play from years ago," said Rothenberg. "This piece of theater has a natural power all its own, because the stories being told belong to the people telling them."
The Castle plays the Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street). Tickets are $30 & $45 and are available at the New World Stages box office or via Telecharge (212-239-6200) / Telecharge.com.
The Fortune Society is a not-for-profit, community-based organization dedicated to educating the public about prisons, criminal justice issues, and the root causes of crime. Staffed primarily by ex-prisoners, the organization helps former inmates and at-risk youth break the cycle of crime and incarceration through a broad range of services. The Fortune Society works to improve prison conditions and protect the rights of prisoners by providing the foundation from which new lives can be launched.
When Hamzah Hakiim arrived at the Castle in 2004, after serving 12 years in prison, he was ready for a new life. In my retirement, I was able to get theater tickets for many of the residents and for most of them it was a new experience. Hamzah wanted to be involved in everything and wanted to see all the shows available, on and off Broadway.
As we became friends, of attending plays together, he shared segments of his life with me. Frequently, I suggested that we create a theater piece based on his life . . . and other residents in the Castle. After all, The Fortune Society began in the theater, evolving out of post-performance discussions of the 1967 prison drama, Fortune and Men's Eyes.
The seed was planted. Hamzah was an extraordinary man who loved the Castle and the opportunities it presented to him and others. After leaving the Castle, he got married, moved into his own apartment and became a counselor at The Fortune Society. Sadly, he died of a massive heart attack in the summer of 2006 at the age of 42.
Of course it broke our hearts, but his spirit lives on. The seed was planted about creating a theater from the lives of the Castle residents. The goal was to let people know that men and women can change their lives. . . in fact, are anxious for a new beginning. The theater was a unique way to share the drama of change, the struggle for change.
Remembering Hamzah Hakiim, his energy, wisdom and his love of the Castle, we present this play for you . . . in memory of a friend who would have loved to be part of this theatrical event, The Castle.
Photo: The cast of The Castle - Angel Ramos, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Casmiro Torres
Photo Credit: Filip Kwiatkowski