Writing to Make a Difference

Local playwright debuts new work after injury

After an injury and five year hiatus to focus on family and work, African-American Portland playwright Kwik Jones is set to premiere his new play, “Jupiter is Stormy” for a free one-day-only showing during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Jones arranged the first rehearsal of the production just last week, which is set to premiere at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 at Kelly’s Olympian in downtown Portland.

The play was originally set to debut late last month, but complications from a spinal cord injury Jones suffered made putting the production together unmanageable, so he canceled that showing. He’s since been put on a new nerve medication that has enabled him to continue working on the play, although he had to recast it, Jones told the Portland Observer.

Jones grew up in northeast Portland and has been writing issue-minded plays locally, including “Voices,” and “Spotlight,” for over 20 years. A Jefferson High School alum, he has been known to use surplus earnings from his productions to feed the homeless with his family around the holidays. This time, he’s funneling his generosity to the audience by premiering the play at no cost.

“Jupiter is Stormy” centers on African American teens, Blaze, played by Aries Annitya, and Stormy, played by Netty McKenzie, who are long-lost loves that both enjoy alternative subcultures—Blaze listens to metal and Stormy is a goth girl. But Blaze has been masquerading as a hip-hop head to avoid ridicule from his classmates. When they’re reunited, Stormy encourages him to just be himself.

“It asks the question ‘what’s black?’ Because I’m black I can’t listen to metal? Because I’m black I can’t play hockey? Because I’m black I can’t skydive? Because you’re white you’re not supposed to do hip-hop? How come I can’t be who I want to be and still be accepted by my people?” Jones said.

The unusual premise was originally meant to be about teens in rival gangs who fall in love. But when Jones asked his teenage daughter if there were gangs at her school, she said there weren’t very many. Largely, she said, there were the “cool kids,” the “sports kids,” and then the “goth/emo” kids.

“So that’s where the story came from. And when I was doing my research I found out that there are people…alternative lifestyles is what they call them…they love metal, rock, punk…there’s a number of African Americans, black people, that’s into that. And I was like ‘wow.’ I didn’t have any idea that the subculture of goth was big for a lot of African Americans,” Jones said.

Jones used YouTube vlogs of goth teens as research then used his own imagination to tie in the story to themes such as civil rights and gay and lesbian issues. It takes place in one room, a program to catch up on academic credits for high school students struggling to graduate on time. The play also took some inspiration from John Hughes’ film “The Breakfast Club,” a 1985 coming of age drama about teens from wildly different high school social groups in detention together.