Pictured: Ensemble members of ON SHOULDERS NOW. Photo by Thomas Kimble.
By Malcolm Gibbs
ON SHOULDERS NOW, by Kansas City playwright Harvey Williams, tells the story of Vernon (Desmond Jones), a homeless man living in Kansas City in the early 2000s. After getting paid to evict a pregnant Noi (Cydia White) and her friend Levon (John Van Winkle) on Christmas Eve, Vernon makes it his mission to find a warm and safe place for Noi to deliver her baby. Vernon acts as the narrator as this Christmas tale unfolds on stage. Williams captures issues of class, immigration, violence against women, and of course homelessness in this hour and a half.
At its core, ON SHOULDERS NOW is a Christmas play, and it takes many steps for that to be known. With the characters of Shanel (Jabrelle Herbin) and Carmen (Regina Sanchez) often using the fact that it is Christmas Eve as a trump card for their guardian Lacy (Elizabeth A. Hillman). Along with the consistent use of Christmas music to underscore the play.
Director Nicole Hodges Persley brings out an amazing performance from Desmond Jones in the role of Vernon. Vernon is a veteran, he’s homeless, he has previous head trauma, and most of all, he’s dead. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. Vernon makes it clear in the opening monologue that he is a Christmas ghost, a ghost of Christmas past perhaps. All of these elements become an extremely nuanced character that shows amazing depth in his alternating moments of humor and genuine heart.
Theodore Hughes, playing Vernon’s co-conspirator Eddie, is a consistent laugh throughout the show coupling perfect with Vernon. One of many actors to reprise their role from the 2015 production, Cydia White (Noi) feels right at home in her role, noticeably drawing on her own experience in an expert way.
Other elements don’t land quite as well, particularly the underscoring, which makes hearing the actors problematic. Still, KC Melting Pot Theatre delivers a surprising addition to the growing amount of Christmas shows in the Kansas City area with ON SHOULDERS NOW.
ON SHOULDERS NOW runs at The Keairnes Stage at Just Off Broadway Theatre from November 30th until December 15th. For more information and tickets visit www.kcmeltingpot.com.