Theater / Film

Review: Juggerknot’s ‘Conjuring the King’ Goes Inside Mind Of Extreme Elvis Fan

Written By Christine Dolen
March 4, 2024 at 5:21 PM

June Raven Romero, above, plays Avery, an obsessed Elvis fan, in Juggerknot Theatre Company’s “Conjuring the King” playing in Little River. Susie K. Taylor shares the role in the immersive production through Sunday, April 28. (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

Elvis Presley sang in a voice full of thrilling joy and seductive longing.  His movie-star looks, rags-to-riches story and boundary-shattering style earned him a vast, enduring fan base.  Inevitably, some of those who idolized the man known as The King took their devotion to extremes.

Avery, who runs an Elvis fan club and museum, is one of those extremists.

Susie K. Taylor shares a memory as Avery in her jam-packed bedroom in Juggerknot Theatre Company’s immersive world premiere of “Conjuring the King.” (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

She is also the invention of playwright Dipti Bramhandkar and Ana Margineanu, the conceptualizer and director of Juggerknot Theatre Company’s newest immersive production, “Conjuring the King.”

Running through the end of April at a “secret” location in Miami’s Little River neighborhood – you get the exact address once you buy a ticket, but it’s in a shared office building with free parking – the play is a classic example of how Juggerknot built its immersive theater brand and fandom.

[RELATED: Elvis Fandom in a Secret Location]

The company’s successful large-scale productions of “Miami Motel Stories” (there were editions in Little Havana, MiMo and North Beach) and “Wynwood Stories,” plus the solo show “The Blues Opera,” established Juggerknot as the OG of South Florida’s growing immersive theater trend.

“Conjuring the King” is, like “The Blues Opera,” a more intimate show. Just 15 people per performance share in Avery’s fan club experience, and over the course of an hour and 20 minutes, they have ample opportunity to share in the fun, surprises and thought-provoking turn of this communal journey.

Going in, future audiences need to keep in mind that “Conjuring the King” is a piece of theater, not the Elvis fan club meeting it initially seems to be.  It has depth, twists, turns and, as it moves from one room to the next, unsettling surprises.

Inside the mega fan’s Elvis museum in the Juggerknot Theatre Company’s immersive world premiere of “Conjuring the King.” (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

Sure, you’ll “ooh” and “aah” as you walk into Avery’s museum space, with its jam-packed wall of Elvis memorabilia, photographs, music boxes, Graceland furniture replicas, a big ol’ ceramic bust and more.  Off to one side is a mirrored karaoke room with flashing lights and a disco ball, ready for a brief interlude when anyone can croon an Elvis tune.  A small open kitchen holds supplies for a “cooking” contest and free shots of a special Elvis whiskey.

But pay attention to Avery from the moment she hurtles into the room, and you’ll realize “Conjuring the King” is about the psychological price of one woman’s obsession with the unattainable object of her fantasies.

Because Juggerknot’s team decided to present two shows per night every Wednesday through Sunday, two actors are cast as Avery to alternate performances of the intense solo show.

Susie K. Taylor and June Raven Romero perform each night, with Taylor doing the early shows except on Saturdays. The actors say the same words, follow the same blocking, handle the same elements as they conduct Elvis trivia contests or take the audience on a “visit” to Graceland for a heart-to-heart with Elvis’s late mother Gladys.

But if you were to watch back-to-back performances (as I did), you would register how different the essence of “Conjuring the King” can be, depending on the actor.

Romero sparkles and shines in a gold jumpsuit, red scarf, glittering red boots, a red and gold rhinestone belt, and Elvis-symbolic lightning bolt earrings (the costume, identical for Taylor, is by Brooke Vacca).

June Raven Romero as Avery in the immersive world premiere of Juggerknot Theatre Company’s “Conjuring the King.” (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

Her Avery leans into the early roots of Avery’s obsession, the jealousy she feels toward other women and Elvis’s own success, and the way she relies on her imaginary beloved to occupy an unfillable void. The trans actor’s Avery comes across as vulnerable, wounded, fragile at this moment in her life.

Regarding a not-to-be-revealed moment, let’s just say that if you see Romero’s performance, you will never again hear Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” without thinking of the actor.

Taylor, on the other hand, bursts into the performance space ready to (karate) kick butt and take names.  Her vocal projection is excellent, her movement (designed by Octavio Campos) riveting.  Although her Avery is a bit older, she also seems a little more innocent and self-deprecating, less inclined to use her modest talents to achieve an infinitesimal amount of the success Elvis had.

As always (particularly in the case of Juggerknot), it takes a village to make what appears to be a one-woman show.

Susie K. Taylor as Avery asks the audience to join her in planting seeds of hope in Juggerknot Theatre’s immersive world premiere of “Conjuring the King.” (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

Vanya Allen’s scenic design, with the inextricable contributions of executive director and producer Tanya Bravo and producer Natasha Bravo as props masters, creates three different worlds for Avery and her visitors – one bright and orderly, the next darker and messier, the last darker still but with seeds of hope.  Anamaria Morales gets the lighting just right for as she reflects Avery’s changing moods. Sound designer Luciano Stazzone keeps the Elvis music coming, sometimes prominently, sometimes as a memory-triggering undercurrent.

Stage managers Zoe Garnett and Adele Robinson, along with assistant stage managers Miguel Bonilla, Manuel Bonilla, Emily Valdez and Roshambia Clark, and actor Maya Ibars (adopting an accent as thick as Tennessee barbecue sauce) as the welcoming Peggy, keep the action and activities flowing like clockwork.

To reiterate:  “Conjuring the King” immerses its audiences in joyful fun and as much Elvis trivia as a writer can gracefully pack into a script that isn’t actually about the object of its protagonist’s obsession.  And that’s what makes the play memorable.

Audiences at the immersive world premiere of Juggerknot Theatre Company’s “Conjuring the King” get a special taste experience during the show. (Photo courtesy of Scott McIntyre)

Working with Margineanu to develop the piece, Bramhandkar has given Avery moments of clarity, including this one that stands out: “I can’t keep pushing away my life because of you. You’re just my imaginary friend I’ve had forever. A refuge. A muse. But also my crutch and excuse. I wonder what would have happened if we really met fifty years ago. I’ve imagined it many times. But if I’m really honest, a person like you would have never noticed someone like me.”

Avery, it’s clear, is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Or maybe it’s another nervous breakdown, given a “Psycho”-reminiscent surprise in her bedroom and her private “scent library,” which prompts a “Happy Birthday” singalong for Elvis’s stillborn twin.  Like Avery herself, “Conjuring the King” has layer after layer — as do the all shook up responses to it.

WHAT: World premiere of Juggerknot Theatre Company’s “Conjuring the King” by Dipti Bramhandkar

WHERE: Exact location in Little River area of Miami disclosed after ticket purchased.

WHEN:  7 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Friday-Saturday, through April 28

COST:  $81 (includes fee), $112.50 VIP (includes fee, one drink and Elvis swag)

INFORMATION: 786-757-1986 or is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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