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A life examined in ‘County of Kings’

Lemon Andersen comes from a place where you don’t talk about it, you be about it.

That place is Brooklyn.

Growing up in Sunset Park during the 1980s, the birth of hip-hop, that part of Brooklyn isn’t the neighborhood borough-ites know today, but for Andersen was a ghetto, with his mother addicted to heroin and later succumbing to AIDS. As a teen, he began dealing crack cocaine, winding up in jail.

But that wasn’t the last of him.

Andersen found his own poetic voice, becoming a regular in the city’s poetry slam scene and eventually landing on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO and in “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.” He also got into acting, appearing in Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” and most recently “The Soloist.”

Next up for Andersen is “County of Kings,” a coming of age story presented by friend and co-worker Spike Lee and Culture Project, which he tells through hip-hop storytelling and poetry. Running at the Public Theater in Manhattan, the show is in previews starting September 29.

Having stayed away from being too personal in his work until this point, “County of Kings” finds Andersen ready to tell his story. And reading memoirs like “Black Boy” and “Down These Mean Streets,” he wanted to fill what he saw as a void.

“There’s this generation gap in the literary world when it comes to my generation. I haven’t read [a memoir] that’s done with great mastery,” says Andersen. “I’m filling in that gap with the show.”

He does so with a biting humor and commanding stage presence, with the New York Timeshailing Andersen’s “gift for rhythmic time-capsule set pieces that capture the flavor of a moment in history, turning bold-face and brand names into propulsive song,” and Spike Lee adding the artist to the “legacy of storytellers from Brooklyn.”

With such a focus on the borough, Andersen naturally hopes people from Brooklyn, especially newcomers, come out to witness his beautiful struggle and bridge yet another gap.

“I stand on Bedford Avenue and look at all the people around me and I can tell they’re not native Brooklynites. I think these people will understand and enjoy what they’re moving into if someone presented it in the right way, and get a different take of the people they ride the train with everyday,” says Andersen, who’s lived all over the borough and currently resides in that murky area between Williamsburg and Bushwick. “They’ll get to see what the culture was like before they moved here, lived out on stage.”

“County of Kings” beings a six-week engagement at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street) September 29, with an official opening October 12, and running until November 8. All tickets for preview performances are $25.

All other performances are $50 (weekdays), $60 (weekends).  For more information, including a full schedule and to purchase tickets online, go to www.countyofkingstheplay.com.

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