A newer and deeper production of “Old School” continues at Kansas City Melting Pot Theatre after its successful debut in 2013, at the Just Off Broadway Theatre with writer/director Harvey Williams calling the shots with Granvile O’Neal in the title role as Old School. The show has been retooled since the last version and Williams said he has improved on the original show.
In an exclusive interview on Aug. 20, Williams said, “After the first production in 2013, I gained valuable insight into how definitive the message of the play was and how effectively it was received by the audience.”
The drama opened Friday, Aug. 13, retooled slightly from the original version from 2013. The show features some high caliber rap poets in the persons of Theodore “Priest” Hughes and Desmond “3-3-7” Jones. Their spoken word stands out as highlights of the production.
“If you missed this production in 2013, don’t miss the opportunity to see this play, infused with spoken word, about family, generations, the challenges our young people face, personal responsibility and the struggle to mend bad decisions from the past,” Williams said.
The cast is: Aishah Ogbeh as Leslie, Victoria Barbee as Ms. Stone, Petey McGee as Duce, Arthur Newton III as Detective Martin, Granvile O’Neal as Old School, with Theodore “Priest” Hughes and Desmond “3-3-7” Jones (The Recipe) as the Poets.
The show is about an elderly man who preaches ‘Ghetto Gospel’ with a bottle in his hand, rather than a Bible, Williams said. He continues to pass out his free advice as the other characters face difficult choices in their lives and deal with the reality of their situations.
“The essential message of the production is ‘Man,” Williams said. Beyond that he said the play looks at several questions. What defines a Man? What makes all men equal? How can an ‘individual’ man be the catalyst for change for the better or worse: Williams said he wants man to “think, feel, control”. “The message is framed around circumstances of a Black Family’s condition, but the essential message of the story is absolutely pertinent to all races. The salvation of any starts from within one,” Williams said.
The play focuses on universal values of a young couple faced with some difficult decisions. In this case, the individuals face the difficult decisions. Color is not the distinguishing factor. In this play, yes, they are characters of color, but the drama spans all races and religions. Young people make bad choices. Bad choices can create life changing situations that spin out of their control.
While this play focuses on young people in a ghetto, similar situations can play out in trailer parks, low income housing projects, poverty stricken areas where jobs are scarce and education not valued. The focus of the play is to make good choices and learn from mistakes of others who have “been there/done that.”
“The most noticeable changes are in the more defined relationships between the characters. In the last production our poets were more in line with just being a reflective chorus. In this revised production they are incorporated into the actual story itself, as well as, being a representation of reflection. The key to this was to keep the actual story separate from their reflection. I believe the Poets as well as the cast have brought a much stronger intensity and the response to, and the interest continuing to mount for this production has proven that. One very disturbing observation that seems to go without exception is the fact that this basic play was written 12 years ago, yet the message on family condition, poverty and crime and injustice, seem to come right out of today’s headlines and lead news stories. Time to “make” a change,” Williams said.
The play and dialogue are authentic. The characters are realistic. The acting is good and focused. More defined sets would help create a mood and help the audience, but the play is still a work in progress. Each remount will add more levels and depth to the story. Give lots of credit to Williams for his script, his actors, his direction, and his voice. The show is worth seeing.
“I am in the process of getting the revised script published to be made available for outside productions. I am also editing a version which I plan to produce for some Fringe Festivals both in the USA, as well as internationally,” Williams said.
“Old School” opened at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 15 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until Aug 29. Curtain for evening performances Thurs-Sat. remain at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29 will feature a matinee and evening performance.
First weekend’s attendance: Opening Night was good; Saturday was good; Sunday, sparse, Wiliams said. Ticket sales for this weekend and for the closing weekend are picking up, strong, Williams said.
Tickets for “Old School” are: $25 for adults; $20 for seniors/students; $15 for Industry Nights (Thursdays Only); group discounts are available through the box office. To reserve or purchase tickets by phone call: 816.226.8087 for online sales, visit the Melting Pot website. “Old School” plays at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central, Kansas City, MO 64108 (Penn Valley Park). 816.784.5020.
“I began each show by challenging the audience to be “selfish”, to put a mirror on the stage and see themselves,” Williams concluded.