The “County of Kings” is finally going on stage — in the County of Kings.
Brooklyn native, Def Poetry Jam veteran, and Spike Lee discovery Lemon Andersen is bringing his acclaimed one-man autobiographical show about growing up in 1980s Brooklyn — through heroin, crack, and AIDS — to his home borough for the first time.
“It’s a generation that’s never really been heard in theater,” Lemon said.
At the heart of “County of Kings” is the Courtyard, the housing complex at the corner of 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue where Lemon grew up — a building so notorious for drugs and violence that the poet recalls seeing a film in junior high listing it as a place to avoid.
“I grew up in a building, not in a neighborhood. We had our own neighborhood inside the Courtyard,” Andersen says. “It was a building that looked very nice during the day with gardens and big trees, and Christmas ornaments all over the place, but at night — ooh.”
The Courtyard is where Lemon saw his junkie mother and stepfather sell drugs, strip cars, and suffer through the ravages of AIDS, and where he himself later sold crack, eventually landing in Rikers Island for armed robbery.
But a flier for an open mic brought him to El Puente Community Center on Hooper Street in Williamsburg, where Andersen first performed his poetry — a pivotal moment in the artist’s life.
“You go to El Puente when you don’t get sought out by Tisch or Juilliard or Yale,” Andersen said. “I carry that place with me everywhere I go.”
From El Puente, Andersen’s path — despite one final detour back through Riker’s — took him to Def Poetry Jam on Broadway in Manhattan, to meeting Spike Lee, to putting on “County of Kings” at Public Theater in the East Village, to travelling the world as a performer, and now, finally, back to Brooklyn.
“County of Kings” at the BEAT Festival in the Irondale Center [85 S. Oxford St., between Fulton Street and Greene Avenue in Fort Greene, www.beatbrooklyn.com]. Sept. 12, 7:30 pm. $20.