Harvey Williams and Lynn King in “Begetters” (Thomas Kimble – TK Photography)
With its latest production, “Begetters,” KC Melting Pot Theater is once again proving to be home to some of the most complex, original, confrontational work happening in Kansas City today.
“Begetters,” which is seeing its world premiere at KCMPT, is a raw deep dive into the darkest elements of a decades-long marriage. “Messy” would be the usual euphemism but this goes far beyond that. This show dives hard into trauma, pain, betrayal, grief. It has moments of levity, for sure, but there should be no illusions that this show might tread lightly in exploring its characters’ pain because it absolutely refuses to do so.
Norma (Lynn King) and Spicer (Harvey Williams) have entered into couples counseling to help them wade through the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Their story alternates between the present-day—moving from the counselor’s waiting room to their sessions—and flashbacks of recent years, working through their tumultuous, sometimes volatile relationship with each other and their adult children. The differences in space and time are delineated nearly entirely via Warren Deckert’s lighting—especially impressive given the black box space’s tight constraints. The result is something akin to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” in therapy, as the two relentlessly engage in the battle of who can care less—trying to prove to each other, as one of them puts it, “how much we don’t give a damn.”
The show is at once a specific encapsulation of this particular relationship, an exploration of the turmoil that comes with lifelong relationships, and also—while definitely universally engaging—a distinct depiction of Black relationships.
“I just wanted to reflect Black people trying to find peace in the midst of some of the traumatic baggage and cycles we go through,” playwright Lewis Morrow (a Kansas City local) has said of his work. “I think people who aren’t Black can relate, but I wrote it in our language, with our rhythm, and mannerisms in mind.”
The chemistry between Williams, also KC Melting Pot’s founder, and King, who most recently directed the company’s phenomenal production of “Barbeque,” is a marvel. When we talk about chemistry, it’s usually referring to the ways actors meld their characters together in positive engagement. But what these two have is a sort of antagonistic chemistry. The way they play off each other is painful and raw in a way that doesn’t let you take your eyes off them.
The chemistry between Williams and Lewis Morrow—who, in addition to writing the play, stars as Norma and Spicer’s son Gordon—is similarly arresting. The entire cast is stellar, to the point that they actually feel overly showcased by Morrow’s script. The first act is riveting and absolutely makes the whole play more than worth a trip out to see it. The second half ties itself up in introducing new characters and giving them all Big Moments. While well-scripted and beautifully performed with a captivating sense of un-theatricality under the skilled direction of Ile Haggins, those moments simply do not seem necessary to the overall arc of this play, which also culminates in an over-the-top climax that feels plucked out of another show entirely.
Still, the ideas and the performances on display here make “Begetters” the kind of show you’ll go home talking about and probably continue thinking about for quite a time afterward.
“Begetters,” a production of KC Melting Pot, runs through May 21 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central. For more information, call 816-226-8087 or go to www.kcmeltingpot.com.