An “Unconventional Christmas Story” by Harvey Williams
Vernon and Eddie are survivors of the street. Levon is an Iowa farm boy facing eviction. Noi is a pregnant Jamaican immigrant. It is Christmas Eve, so Vernon, in the spirit of the season, decides to provide shelter to this desperate couple. That shelter is a “house of ill repute,” run by Ms. Lacy and her two companions, Shanel and Carmen. But best laid plans often go awry.
In the words of playwright Harvey Williams, creator of “On Shoulders Now,” “Honorable intentions shift into chaos. An unconventional Christmas story shared from beyond the grave.”
“‘On Shoulders Now’ is the Christmas story, albeit an irreverent translation from Biblical privilege to contemporary realities,” said Williams. The three women could be seen as the Magi; similarly, Noi’s baby, Christine, reads as a surrogate for the infant Jesus.
Regardless of the religious undertones, the play’s focus is on marginalized members of today’s society and their search for grace during the Yuletide season.
The first workshop production of “On Shoulders Now” took place in November 2015 at Just Off Broadway Theatre. As Robert Trussell observed in his review for “The Kansas City Star,” the play “manages the neat trick of being hard-edged and sentimental at the same time,” adding, “it may be flawed, but it gets down to the essence of what Christianity means.”
May 2017 saw a staged reading of the play at KC Rep’s New Works program. Marissa Wolf, then director of New Works, was thrilled to present it. “I’ve admired Harvey Williams since I moved here,” she said. “His muscular and rhythmic language will have people on the edge of their seats in ‘On Shoulders Now.’”
KC Melting Pot Theatre, founded by Williams in 2013, will present the new, reworked version of the play at Off Broadway Theatre from Nov. 30 through Dec. 15. It will be directed by KC Melting Pot’s associate artistic director, Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley.
“On Shoulders Now” is one of four original stage plays by Williams, joining “Old School,” “The Session” and “2121.” He has written two screenplays, “2121” and “Ms. Child,” and is also a respected actor, who has triumphed in multiple local productions and performed in Bedford, England, and in the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia.
Williams says the themes of his plays are “homelessness, immigration issues, victimization of women, healthcare concerns.” As he observed of “2121,” “the story only touches the
surface . . . it was truly a matter of having nothing left to lose.”
“A major motivation for my writing,” he says, “is a selfish and pitiful attempt to atone for my own apathetic complicity involving social and political injustices and inequalities. Each of us could always do, give or participate more.”
In the plays he writes and the roles he enacts, that attitude rings clear. “On Shoulders Now” delivers a strong, fitting holiday punch in our trying times.
As Williams puts it, “No matter our circumstance, Christmas is shared by us all. What is the meaning of . . . the spirit of . . . the season?”
KC Melting Pot presents “On Shoulders Now” from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central in Penn Valley Park. For tickets and more information, 816.513.8980 or www.kcmeltingpot.com.