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David Rothenberg's "The Castle", Presented at New World Stages
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David Rothenberg's "The Castle", Presented at New World Stages

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The Castle
(Fortune Society Website)
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
NY, NY 10019

Conceived and Directed by David Rothenberg
Written in collaboration with
and performed by:

Vilma Ortiz Donovan
Kenneth Harrigan
Angel Ramos
Casimiro Torres
(Read about the Cast)

Production Coordinator: Chris Scott
Sound: Maurice Dean
Press: O+M Company

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 7, 2009

Four former prisoners, Vilma Ortiz Donovan., Angel Ramos, Casimiro Torres, and Kenneth Harrigan, sit on high stools against a black backdrop and tell the early Saturday evening audience about their childhoods, their crimes, their imprisonment, their pains, their hopes, their revitalization, and, most importantly, their respect for The Castle. The Castle is a halfway house on New York’s Upper West Side, where newly released prisoners find a healthy environment, freed of guilt and fear, where they can re-group their emotions and re-start their lives.

David Rothenberg, who produced John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes in 1967, a performance piece about the horrors of prisons, also founded The Fortune Society, a non-profit organization that also runs The Castle. Rothenberg collaborated on the four combined scripts, as each new “taxpayer” relates his/her milestones in their early experiences of family and street and later experiences of detention and despair. Each speaker uses a unique style of delivery for a unique series of decisions and roadblocks. And, each speaker has a unique point in time, when the hurdles were overcome and The Castle changed the future.

Angel Ramos, who spent 30 years in prison for one violent day, spent his childhood nights on the living room couch; Vilma Ortiz Donovan, from Long Island, returned to prison for drug-related offenses; Kenneth Harrigan could have had a basketball scholarship, but became a DJ and an addict and burglar; Casimiro Torres was imprisoned early and often, working the streets with his brother for robbery and drugs. Their shared histories sometimes merged in a natural rhythm, as each speaker took turns with a passage or tale, a veritable collage of suffering. While Angel Ramos spoke with quiet dignity (now a practicing Quaker), Casimiro Torres spoke on the edge of raw grief. Mr. Ramos dressed like a professor and drew the audience in. Mr. Torres, in muscular, casual presence, was compelling and charismatic, never masking the details of his youth. Vilma Ortiz Donovan tearfully exposed her troubles and torment, but with newfound strength and focus. Kenneth Harrigan, who looked like a basketball player in a suit, studied law and assists newly released convicts. The stories flowed freely, and the air was palpable.

The audience is invited to remain after the program for questions and feedback, led by Eric Krebs from the aisle. What persisted poignantly throughout this event was the vast failure of the American prison system, especially in rehabilitation and probation. A large portion of prisoners return again and again, for the same or similar crimes, as drugs are punished, not treated as a disease, and the halfway houses are mostly violent. Thanks to The Castle, where imprisoned youth and adults are treated, educated, and mainstreamed, there is a rainbow of hope. I recommend The Castle as an illuminating learning experience, a riveting theatrical experience, and an inspiration to change the politics of the prison system. The Castle should also be brought to as many middle schools and high schools as resources will allow. Kudos to Mr. Ramos, Ms. Ortiz Donovan, Mr. Torres, and Mr. Harrigan. Kudos to David Rothenberg and the Fortune Society. The Castle is presented each Saturday evening at 5:00 PM at New World Stages. Click here for tickets.

Cast of "The Castle"
Angel Ramos, Vilma Ortiz Donovan,
Kenneth Harrigan, Casimiro Torres
Courtesy of Filip Kwiatkowski

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at