Performing Arts

‘Help Yourself’ to a brand new play that makes its local debut this weekend

Jeff Smith portrays Gabe Newland in “Help Yourself” at the Paragraph Gallery, a play that opens Friday.
Jeff Smith portrays Gabe Newland in “Help Yourself” at the Paragraph Gallery, a play that opens Friday. Special to the Star

David Wayne Reed — actor, playwright and founding member of Late Night Theatre — is ready to unveil his latest creation: “Help Yourself,” an extended one-act that takes place at a self-help seminar.

The dark comedy opens Friday at Charlotte Street’s Paragraph Gallery, 23 E. 12th St. (at Main).

Reed is directing the piece, which features Jeff Smith, Teri Adams, Kyle Dyck and Stefanie Stevens.

“I first had the idea back in the ’90s,” Reed said. “I thought the burgeoning self-help movement — you know, Oprah, Dr. Phil — had possibilities. And I was turned on by the idea of tough love.”

Reed said he did indeed attend a “transformational retreat,” which provided excellent background for a play about — well, about a transformational retreat. But his sources of inspiration were pretty broad.

“Even those seminars you see on late-night TV where they’re telling you how to double your money on housing investments,” Reed said. “Any kind of get-rich-quick scheme. Where there’s self-help, people have problems.”

The characters include the seminar leader, a nurse, an alcoholic in recovery and a weather forecaster.

“You could say a nurse, a recovering alcoholic and a meteorologist walk into a seminar, and comedy ensues,” he said.

“Help Yourself” is presented by the Charlotte Street Foundation as a selected proposal from its Open Call for artist projects last summer.

Reed said he was lucky to get this cast. Smith, Dyck and Stevens are interesting performers who have emerged from the city’s alternative theater scene in shows at the Living Room, the Buffalo Room and the Fringe festival. Adams, long pegged as a musical-theater performer, here will get to show off her considerable comedic skills.

Playwrights have sprouted in Kansas City in recent years. They seem to be everywhere. But Reed could be considered one of the pioneers when he, Ron Megee and others were writing and producing their own material for Late Night Theatre.

“Over the years, from Late Night Theatre days, I’ve seen the spirit of renegade artists emerge,” he said.

Theater artists are spurred by the a desire to see their material onstage in the immediate future, rather than waiting and hoping for an established theater to take it on.

Reed said the Fringe fest contributed to the atmosphere by allowing playwrights a cheap way to get a play on its feet in no-frills productions.

“I think there’s a real outside-the-system in the zeitgeist right now, where if you want to do work, do work,” he said.

“Help Yourself” runs through Feb. 1. Tickets are $20 and available from Brown Paper Tickets at http://helpyourself.brownpapertickets.com. You can learn more about the play at http://www.charlottestreet.org/2014/12/help-yourself.

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