“Jungle Kings” Opens Our Eyes

Jungle Kings image

This past weekend I saw a play on campus called “Jungle Kings” written and directed by Rain Wilson and staring ten extremely talented Badgers. While the story takes place in a prison, the characters are anything but predictable “criminals”. “Jungle Kings” highlights the severity of the flaws in our current justice system through rich, unique, yet tragic backgrounds illustrated by each performance on stage. Men of color are incarcerated at rates disproportionate to white men, and this play sends the message that this is nothing but a “new Jim Crow”. 

Filled with touching, memorable quotes delivered from a naturally gifted ensemble, you would never guess that this was brought to an audience after only four weeks of rehearsal. “Jungle Kings” makes each and every one of us ask ourselves, “Are we part of the problem, or are we part of the solution?”. My personal opinion? If every Badger had a chance to see this play, we’d be able to open up an extremely crucial dialogue focusing on modern racial and socio-economic oppression.

Because without the discussion, the problems will continue to get worse. That means problematic achievement gaps in schools, more disproportionate incarceration rates, and troubling high unemployment rates among communities of color. “Jungle Kings” brings us back to why this is a problem for all of us. Dynamics between the characters left me believing that their issues weren’t much different from my own. After all, the feeling of abandonment by one’s society can come from anywhere, not just in prison.

The real gift of “Jungle Kings” was Ms. Wilson’s writing for a universal audience. It empowered the actors to deliver performances that reflected the real world problems and it welcomed the idea of loving even the most aggressive criminal, because everyone’s story can make a positive impact in the lives of others. It was a beautiful show, and we owe a big “thanks” to the Vice Provost for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement along with the Vice Provost for the Division of Student Life for sponsoring it. If this was part of the First Annual Multicultural Theater Festival, I can only imagine what great shows are in store for next year!

-Tony Pastagnoli