By Bob Evans
In a politically charged piece playing at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, Harvey Williams’ new play “2121″ confronts the challenges faced by illiterate adults with programs curtailed that help them learn, accomplish, and move toward better lives.
Williams’ new comic drama takes the audience inside a classroom filled with a vast array of learners from young to old, all trying to earn their G.E.D. as their passport to a better life and new achievement. Each brings his or her own story to the classroom, while diligently working to learn to pass a 6th grade equivalency test to remain in the program. The problem: None function at 6th grade equivalency, so their classes end in one day because of budget cuts made by the governor.
“2121″ holds special significance to all the students, teachers, and directors of the program. Without the program, they all fail. With the program, they may succeed, but their steadfast dedication shines in their quest to earn their diploma. One wants a better job. One wants to read prescription labels to help his ill wife. Another just wants something meaningful to do. One wants a better life and the American Dream.
Even with the drama of the situation and students taking matters into their own hands to protest, the escalating tension comes with lots of hearty laughs as well as tender, heart-warming episodes. The problem, Williams deals with in this play are the serious cuts to educational programs that serve the impoverished and under-educated. Those individuals want and need the education to survive with hopes of getting a better life, yet through no fault of their own their dreams and future ride on the whims of government officials. Sadly, those are real-life situations.
While each of the cast had opportunities to build their character, some fine moments came from Lewis Morrow, Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, Timothy Burks and Orlando J. Newton. The delivery of their characters stood out from the ensemble of actors on stage. Some of the dialogue was inconsistent with the grade level of the students who are below grade six level. That’s the difficulty of portraying under-educated adults with less than six grade intelligence. It’s a slippery slope to write for that characteristic without demeaning the characters. The cast does a great job of giving their characters depth and dignity.
As both author and director, Williams assembled a stellar cast of live and video performances by local artists. Focused on using local actors and predominately providing opportunities for African-American actors, Williams finds talent on the brink of breaking through and gives them the seasoned professionals to help them build their skills and mentor them for his productions. The live cast is: Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, Carol Leighton, Timothy Burks, Lewis Morrow, Joileeah Worley, Nick Hazel, Ebonee Grace, Njeri Mungai, Orlando J. Newton, Elizabeth A. Hilman, Shereese Murphy, Philip Hooser, Dennis Jackson, Danielle Foster.
“2121″ continues at the Just Off Broadway Theatre through Oct. 14. Tickets can be purchased online at the theatre website.
Tags: Just of Broadway Theatre, KC Melting Pot, “2121″, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Theater