S.M. Shephard-Massat’s award-winning play is about four African-American women in Atlanta who decide to treat themselves to the formerly whites-only lunch counter in a downtown department store after the Supreme Court upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Shephard-Massat has said in interviews that she wrote the piece as a tribute to her grandmother and doesn’t think of it as a “civil rights play.”
“It’s not like I was writing to send a message to the world,” she said in a 2002 interview with Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. “It’s just a small story about four women doing something it took a lot of courage to do.”
The play received its world premiere at the Denver Center Theatre Company in 2000, and that’s where Warren Deckert, who is directing the show, first saw it. He liked the play so much that he staged it for the Great Bend Community Theatre in Kansas, where he was the artistic director for 20 years. And he brought it to Harvey Williams, artistic director of MeltingPot KC.
KC MeltingPot is a resident company at Just Off Broadway Theatre. Phoenix KC has staged a succession of memorable plays at KC Fringe. MeltingPot’s goal is to present new work with an emphasis on diversity. Since “Waiting to Be Invited” was an established play, Deckert suggested that they join forces for a co-production. And he talked Williams into playing the only male role, that of a bus driver.
“He kept trying to weasel out, but I wouldn’t let him,” Deckert said. “He’s perfect for the bus driver.”
Shephard-Massat “has written other plays, but I’m not familiar with any of them,” Deckert said. “This is the one that has been done around the country after the Denver premiere. Once it became available, we started seeing a lot of productions.”
Deckert recalls that the play struck him as finely crafted the first time he saw it.
“It was polished in its premiere,” he said. “A lot of new scripts have to go through the workshop process, but this one is polished.”
Williams had a similar reaction when he read it.
“It grabs you pretty well,” he said. “It’s really got some strong dynamics and conversation that really gets to the point and gets you thinking about the way things changed down South.”
Deckert is also the show’s scenic designer.
“It’s a really hyper-minimal set design,” he said. “It doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles to tell the story.”