At KC Melting Pot Theatre, Women Directors Run the Show

KC Melting Pot Theatre’s lineup of 2021-22 directors is all women, pictured from left to right: Lynn King, Ile Haggins, Melonnie Walker and Nicole Hodges Persley. (photo by Jim Barcus)

And You’ll Find Women at the Fore Throughout KC’s 2021-22 Theater Season

KC Melting Pot Theatre, like most other theater companies in town, shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and tried to reach audiences through its YouTube channel with performances and Zoom discussions about acting, theater, playwrights and the Amazon Prime series “Them.”

Now the company has regrouped and organized a post-pandemic season of four productions. Artistic director Nicole Hodges Persley is also trying something new for the company: Each production will be directed by a woman. KC Melting Pot will present two original works by actor/playwright Lewis Morrow, the company’s director of new play development, as well as a modern classic by August Wilson and a contemporary comedy raising serious questions by Robert O’Hara.

“I think Black women are often at the heart of movements,” Persley said. “And I think it’s important to acknowledge that Black female artists have a hard journey, especially playwrights. We have an opportunity to do this work and give opportunities to people of color.”

KC Melting Pot was founded in 2013 by Harvey Williams — he likes to say it was the only way to get his plays produced — and Persley came on board as artistic director in 2016. Since then, it has served as a creative incubator. Morrow’s plays have been seen in productions or readings across the country. Two former KC actors associated with the company — Frank Oakley III and Tosin Morohunfola — have found early success in film and television.

As KC Melting Pot and other local companies try to rebuild, hovering over it all is an unavoidable fact: COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. Emerging variants pose a potential threat, and not everyone has been vaccinated. But KC Melting Pot, like other theaters, is banking on the possibility that the worst is behind us.

“Knock on wood,” said Harvey Williams. “We’re still being cautious about things, but we feel pretty good about being able to come back with this scheduled season.”

Still, contingency plans are a fact of life.

“I think the lesson we learned is that we have to have some kind of virtual component, because the pandemic is not over,” co-founder Linda Williams said. “There’s an audience out there we’re not necessarily reaching. We’ve talked about whether we’re going to perform virtually, but we’re probably not going to do that. But we also have a film division and they’re trying to find more projects to do. I think we’re going to ramp up our virtual component as we go forward.”

Theatergoers who saw Harvey Williams’ play “2121” in 2016 will recall that filmed sequences enhanced the narrative and pushed the plot forward.

The Season

“Baybra’s Tulips,” by Lewis Morrow, Sept. 16-25. Persley will direct. The play is described as a family drama in which the title character, an African American man who has served 10 years in prison, comes home to live with his sister and her born-again husband and tries to connect with his daughter, who was an infant when he went away.

“Two Trains Running,” Dec. 2-11. Dramaturg Melonnie Walker will stage the show. This is the seventh play in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle depicting African American life in the 20th century. Set mainly in a diner in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the play takes place in the 1960s as African Americans come to terms with the recent assassination of Malcolm X and restaurant owner Memphis Lee fights to keep his business in the face of “urban renewal.”

Barbecue,” by Robert O’Hara, Feb. 9-19, 2022. Actor/director Lynn King will direct. The play depicts a backyard barbecue that is really meant to be an intervention for a family member gripped by addiction. Emotional clashes and buried anger rise to the surface. But O’Hara requires something unique: two versions of each character, one Black, the other white.

“Begetters,” May 12-21, 2022. Veteran community theater director Ile Haggins will direct. Morrow’s play focuses on an aging African American couple whose troubled relationship affects the lives of their adult children.

To learn more, visit kc-meltingpot-theatre.square.site.

With the exception of one production, the Unicorn Theatre’s lineup of directors is all women, pictured from left to right: Teresa Leggard, Vanessa Severo, Sidonie Garrett, Heidi Van and Cynthia Levin. (photo by Jim Barcus)

More 2021-22 Productions

Unicorn Theatre

Women directors are not unusual in Kansas City. The Unicorn Theatre season, for example, includes productions to be directed by Vanessa Severo, Heidi Van, Sidonie Garrett, Teresa Leggard and Unicorn artistic director Cynthia Levin. Associate artistic director Ian R. Crawford and Jeff Church, artistic director of the Coterie, will co-direct one show. They are the only male directors in the Unicorn’s season.

The Season:

“The Lifespan of a Fact” by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell (based on a book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal) opens the season in September. Severo directs.

“Pipeline” by Dominique Morisseau,” staged by Teresa Leggard, runs in October.

“Dance Nation” by Clare Barron (a coproduction with UMKC Theatre), December. Heidi Van directs.

“Our Black Death: Plagues, Turnips & Other Romantic Gestures” by Lindsay Carpenter, January 2022. Levin directs.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” by Nia Vardalos and Cheryl Strayed, March 2022. The play was a Pulitzer finalist in 2019. Sidonie Garrett stages the show.

“The Inheritance, Parts 1 &2” by Matthew Lopez, May 2022. This widely praised work premiered at the Young Vic in London in 2018. Theatergoers may recall the intense KCRep production of another Lopez play, “The Whipping Man,” in 2012.

The Unicorn produced some impressive virtual productions during the COVID season, and the Unicorn audiences have seen, from time to time, filmed elements incorporated into live shows. In a statement, Levin had this to say about virtual theater going forward: “We are excited to welcome audiences back to the Unicorn in September for the start of our 48th Season! At this time, we have no plans to produce any more virtual productions or hybrids. Of course, things are still fluid, but we are looking forward to doing what we do best.”

For more information, go to unicorntheatre.org.

Enrique Chi and Juan-Carlos Chaurand of Making Movies will perform as part of KCRep’s “Ghost Light,” Sept. 30-Oct. 17, outdoors at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. (photo by Don Ipock)

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Kansas City Repertory Theatre was the first major local company to announce a 2021-22 season, which includes “Mary’s Wedding” by Stephen Massicotte, to be staged outdoors at the National WWI Museum and Memorial by KCRep artistic director Stuart Carden, Aug. 27-Sept. 19; “Ghost Light: A Haunted Night of Songs and Stories from KC’s Cultural Crossroads,” Sept. 30-Oct. 17, outdoors at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; “Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson — Apt. 2B,” an irreverent cross-gender take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective by Kate Hamill, Feb. 1-20, 2022, Copaken Stage; “The Royale,” an inventive evocation of the career of prizefighter Jack Johnson by Marco Ramirez (directed and choreographed by Steph Paul), March 8-27, 2022, Copaken Stage; “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” a folk musical by Pigpen Theatre Co., co-directed by Stuart Carden and Pigpen, May 3-22, 2022, at the Spencer Theatre.

KCRep is reportedly considering options for additional virtual theater. The Rep’s video production of “A Christmas Carol” was the best of the COVID-19 virtual shows.

To learn more, go to www.kcrep.org.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre will take care of some unfinished business with a show that began previews before the city’s COVID-19 lockdown brought all live entertainment to a halt. Now “Mother of the Maid” by Jane Anderson opens the new season. Scheduled to run Sept. 9-19, the play tells the story of Joan of Arc from her mother’s perspective. Directed by MET co-founder and artistic director Karen Paisley.

The rest of the season: “Oliver,” the classic musical based on “Oliver Twist,” Nov. 11-21; “Sea Horse,” Edward J. Moore’s odd-couple romance in a waterfront bar, Feb. 24-March 6, 2022; “Flyin’ West,” Pearl Cleague’s vivid depiction of the African American women who helped establish the town of Nicodemus, Kan., in the 19th century, March 31-April 10, 2022; and “The Nowhere Girl” by Karen Paisley, about a movie star whose career is thrown into disarray by a poorly timed pregnancy.

The MET’s Stage 2 season includes Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a gentle ghost story set in an Irish bar, Oct. 21-31; “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a radio-play version of the classic film by Joe Landry, Dec. 9-19; and “Valentine Cabaret,” a collection of romantic stories and songs, Feb. 11-14, 2022.

To learn more, visit www.metkc.org.

MTH at Crown Center

MTH at Crown Center got an early start by opening a season in April with an open-air presentation of “Music of the Night,” showcasing the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, on the Crown Center roof. It followed up with “Dead Ringer,” starring Zachary Stevenson and “Blame It On the Boogie,” a disco revue, at the former American Heartland Theatre, with socially distanced seating.

The MTH season continued with “Hair,” the classic rock-protest musical, Aug. 5-22, also at the 450-seat former Heartland Theatre. It will be followed by “Camelot,” the Lerner & Lowe classic, Oct. 7-24, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” Nov. 4-21.

To learn more about these productions and the company’s cabarets, visit www.mthkc.com.

Kathy Kane as Isabelle and Patty Whitlock as Joan in “Mother of the Maid” by Jane Anderson, directed by Karen Paisley at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Sept. 9-19. (photo by bob paisley)

KCAT will perform Felicia Londré’s new translation and adaptation of Moliere’s “The Pests” in January. (photo by Manon Halliburton)

Kansas City Actors Theatre

Kansas City Actors Theatre responded to the pandemic by throwing its talent and resources into radio drama, which included playwright Forrest Attaway’s imaginative series about the city’s past, “Kansas City: 1924.” In May the company kicked off a second season of radio plays, broadcast weekly on KKFI-FM and subsequently available on the company’s podcast.

Though the company will not present a full season of live drama, in early summer it shared plans for two live productions. The first, with a working title of “Four Children,” is designed to complement the Auschwitz exhibit at Union Station. The planned 70-minute play will be a dramatic recitation of four diaries kept by teenagers (reminiscent of Anne Frank) from Turkey, Poland, Cambodia and Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The show was expected to open in August.

In addition, KCAT will perform Felicia Londré’s new translation and adaptation of Moliere’s classic comedy “The Pests” as part of year-long events celebrating the legendary playwright’s 400th anniversary. The performance is slated for January.

KCAT plans to return with a full, five-show season in 2022-23.

Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City

As this issue went to press, the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City announced its 2021-22 season will feature “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Memphis,” “Pass Over” and “Redwood.” For dates and venues, visit www.brtkc.org.

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

Leave a Reply