‘Kane and Habil in The Pizza Parlor’ Explores Sins of Original Family

With humor and vision, “Kane and Habil in the Pizza Parlor” explores the original family sins that are still impacting our civilization. The title characters are the children of Adam and Eve. The play is a comedy, written and directed by Serge Ernandez. The production features an adept cast headed by Obie-winner Sheila Dabney as Eve, who also directs the play’s chorus.

Ernandez is a veteran of The Living Theatre; Dabney is a senior member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Rep. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the play’s premiere run January 18 to 27 in its second-floor Club.

Kane and Habil in the Pizza Parlor written and directed by Serge Ernandez. LR: Doug Chapman (Kane), Sheila Dabney (Eve), Kofi Boakye (Habil).

Like other theatrical works drawn from the creation story (notably the first act of “The Apple Tree,” based on Mark Twain’s “The Diaries of Adam and Eve”), this piece takes a lighthearted approach. There are wit and innocence, likeable characters, and an overall optimistic philosophy. The play contrasts the legacy of Kane-hatred, judgment and separation-with the legacy of Habil – compassion, forgiveness and one-ness. The latter is submitted as the path to free humanity from its guilt and aggression, enabling it instead to love. Playwright Serge Ernandez explains, “It is a comedy where we laugh often and easily, as we must laugh at ourselves from time to time and self-reflect so we can evolve.”

The play sets the classic myth in contemporary characters with a modern idiom, to invest the classic prototypes with instant recognition for us as moderns. Anthropologists affirm that civilization started in Africa; therefore, in “Kane and Habil at the Pizza Parlor,” the First Family is an African black family. It’s set in a pizza parlor because that’s where working class folks meet. In such places, people also eat a facsimile of the original flat bread, which is a powerful symbol in this play. The rest of the piece derives from interpretations of the creation story that go rather beyond the simple reading of Genesis. Mystics from different creeds maintain that Eve didn’t encounter a snake, but rather a white fallen Angel stricken by her beauty. From this union, Eve had two white children (Kane and his twin sister Lebuda) and from her union with the African Adam, she had two black children (Habil and his twin sister Quelmina). Adam is represented in the play as an absent father, too busy naming the things of this world to raise his kids. Eve populates the world with joy and gusto, but all is not well in her very first family. Kane is jealous of his brother Habil, incestuous with his sister and eager to own everything. Lebuda’s clock is ticking and she is determined to have a child with Habil, regardless of Kane’s resentment. Habil is a poet, vain and naive. Their conflicts are mediated by a benevolent guide named Assistant. He serves a Creator called IT, but this underling is not a strong enough father figure to prevent catastrophe. The protagonists are left to their free will, which results in a fratricide that foretells our collective history, marking us to this day. The Chorus speaks and sings, clarifying the situation and bringing wisdom to all.

The style of the piece borrows from realistic, symbolic and Artaudian acting and makes extensive use of a chorus with African rhythms.

The production marks a return to the theater of author/director Serge Ernandez, who grew up in Toulouse, France. He earned an MA in French Literature at Universite de Toulouse and studied at Institut des Sciences Politiques there. After being an activist in France from 1968 onward, he left the country in the mid-70’s to join The Living Theatre, became a company member and toured in “The Money Tower” and “Seven Meditations on Political Sado-Masochism.” These plays were part of the Living Theatre’s “Legacy of Cain” series, dealing with the judgment and punishment that followed the biblical character, and they were formative to Ernandez, artistically and thematically. Following his three-year tenure with the Living Theatre, he left to study pre-med at University of Vermont (Burlington) but left there to study Chinese Medicine. He eventually earned a degree from New England School of Acupuncture and is now an acupuncturist, homeopath and herbalist. Ernandez has returned to the stage because he regards it as a healing place that can reactivate symbols in peoples’ unconscious (a process he refers to as Jungian). To-date, he has written six pieces based on archetypal myths: three screenplays, a teleplay and two stage plays. His next piece will deal with the theme of Orpheus.

The legacy of his youthful activism still informs his thinking, but his philosophy has been shaped by his experience as a healer. “I learned that to make sustained political changes,” he reflects now, “people need to internalize new beliefs about themselves, beliefs they will project onto the outer world.” He explains, “We are both the movie and the projectionist. There is an urgent need to choose a different projection. We cannot do it for someone else, but we can present new archetypes and narratives that will trigger to many that inner revelation.” On the angry, backward forces in today’s society, he theorizes, “Someone who really learned self love would not do the destructive things they do. They do it because they hate themselves and this perpetuates the legacy of Kane.” He wants to promote the legacy of Habil and this theme has not yet been confronted in theater, that he is aware of.

Sheila Dabney (Eve, Ensemble Director) won an Obie for her acting in Maria Irene Fornes’ “Sarita” and won a Drama-Logue Award as Titania in the jazz adaptation by Max Roach and George Ferencz of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She is an accomplished orator, known for her powerful voice and spellbinding acting. She has performed in Julie Taymor’s “The Transposed Heads” (Lincoln Center), with Meryl Streep in “Alice at the Palace” by Elizabeth Swados (NYSF) and opposite Laurence Fishbourne in “Sun of the Sleepless” by James Purdy (TNC). She played Athena in Peter Sellers’ “Ajax” and Jocasta in La MaMa’s “Mythos Oedipus.” She has composed music and been the leading actress in plays by Julian Beck, Yasmin Reza, Dario D’Ambrosi, Judith Malina and Pieter Dirk-Uys, among others. She is a member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Rep, The Living Theatre and The Loretta Auditorium Company. She is a graduate of the Julliard School of Drama and The Edith Skinner Institute.

Kofi Boakye (Habil) is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio and was nominated for an AUDELCO award for “The Blacks” in 2002. He has appeared in productions of Classical Theatre of Harlem, Lee Strasberg Theatre, La MaMa and INTAR, among others. In episodic TV, he’s had principal parts on Fox’s “Jonny Zero” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” His soaps include “One Life to Live” and “The Guiding Light.” His films include leading parts in eight indie films. He is also active in commercials. He’s a graduate of the Columbia University Theatre Program.

Doug Chapman (Kane) holds an MFA in acting from American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre School. He has appeared in productions of Josh Fox’s International WOW Company, The Living Theatre, The Brick, American Repertory Company, Moscow Art Theatre and Empirical Rogue. He has appeared in five films and is also active in commercials. He graduated magna cum laude from Oberlin and attended Interlochen Arts Academy.

Emily Alpren (Lebuda) holds an MFA from American Repertory Theatre and graduated magna cum laude from Amhearst. Her films include Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” She is a series regular on the webseries “American MD.” She has appeared in theater productions of Movement Research, Odyssey Works, American Repertory Theatre and Moscow Art Theatre. She also trained at Atlantic Theater Company Conservatory, Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings.

Herbie Go (Assistant to IT) has appeared in productions of Living Theatre and East River Commedia, International WOW Company, Ma-Yi at the Public Theater, Festival Off d’Avignon (France) and Cultural Center of the Philippines (NYC). He graduated cum laude from University of the Philippines and has appeared in Philippine TV and films.

The chorus will be played by Kirk Brown, Yossera Bouchtia and all the other actors when they are not in the scene. Consultant to the choral work will be Yukio Tsuji, a senior member of the Great Jones Rep who has been La MaMa’s in-house composer for over 25 years as well as a composer for Estelle Parsons, Ellen Stewart, Jerome Robins, Julie Taymor, Sir Peter Hall, John Dexter, Andre Serban, Elizabeth Swados and many other major theater directors.

“Kane and Habil in the Pizza Parlor” will be presented by La MaMa E.T.C. from January 18 to 27, 2013, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:00 PM and Sundays at 5:30 PM at La MaMa E.T.C. (The Club), 74A East Fourth Street (2nd Floor). For tickets got to the La MaMa box office at 74A East Fourth Street, visit www.lamama.org or call (212) 475-7710. Tickets are $18 general admission, with $5 off for students and seniors.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.