‘Old School Ghetto Gospel’ a promising beginning for new theater company

The inaugural production from Melting Pot KC is a barebones execution of an interesting new play with some dynamite performances.

Melting Pot, the most recent fledgling theater company in a town that seems to sprout small performance groups on a regular basis, was founded by character actor and playwright Harvey Williams, who with this production unveils a dramatic comedy called “Old School Ghetto Gospel.” The play’s dramatic structure may be a little rough, but Williams demonstrates a flair for comedic timing and sharp characterizations. In the play’s dramatic moments, he also exhibits a capacity for impassioned poetic dialogue.

Director Jacqueline L. Gafford, working with a minimal budget, captures nice performances from a strong cast. Williams, as a sort of street-corner philosopher called Old School, is broadly entertaining as Old School dispenses advice and philosophical observations to anyone who walks by. Lynn King brings gravity and a deadpan sense of humor to Ms. Stone, a parole officer. George Forbes is delightful as a police detective whose insecurities are obvious to anyone who knows him.

Linnaia McKenzie is emotionally intense as a young mother and Tim Burks, as her baby’s father, is low key but effective as a young guy struggling to change his life after getting caught up in inner-city violence.

Williams the dramatist strains plausibility in an effort to bring all the characters together in an extended final scene, which begins as dark drama and slowly segues into light comedy. The actors are able to finesse the transition with grace.

On the plus side, Williams’ play introduces multiple plot threads that take a direction most viewers won’t see coming. The tidy conclusion, in which all conflicts are resolved and the characters embrace the promise of an optimistic future, feels too pat – but by that point that characters have become so likeable that you probably won’t care.

Working with a few tables, some folding chairs and a single wall with a door in it, the shoestring production is really all about the actors and the writing. And that’s a good thing.

The production also introduces a novel and invigorating element with the presence of Theodore “Priest” Hughes and Desmon “3-2-7” Jones, spoken-word artists who perform together as The Recipe KC. Hughes and Jones appear from time to time to interrupt the dramatic narrative with bursts of rich, hip-hop poetry. These guys are electrifying performers. And even though their passages are unrelated to specific events of the play, they nonetheless help create a palpable environment and philosophical viewpoint that complement the production.

Melting Pot is off to a promising start. Its pledge to produce original material and provide creative opportunities to all ethnic communities in the metropolitan area makes it a welcome addition to an already vibrant theater scene.