AND JESUS WEPT
Written by ZenKC on September 19, 2019
Story by Chuck Tackett
“Walking on thin ice. I’m paying the price, for throwing the dice in the air. Why must we learn it the hard way, and play the game of life with your heart? I may cry someday, but the tears will dry whichever way, and when our hearts return to ashes, it’ll just be a story.”
“Walking On Thin Ice”
A couple of months this past summer, I participated for the first time in attending a play during the annual Kansas City Fringe Festival. The play was at The Black Box Theater located on The West Bottom in Kansas City, Missouri. Also a first for me, I have never even heard of The Black Box Theater.
The two-man play I went to see was titled “And Jesus Wept” by the first-time playwright Mr. Jeremiah Kauffman.
The premise of the story was almost every LGBTQ+ individual has experienced in our life at one time or another Mr. Kauffman addressed the emotional toll it takes on LGBTQ+ people when we can’t be our authentic selves because of societal pressure, family or just plain survival.
“And Jesus Wept” focuses on a young Gay man (Daniel) struggling with the mayhem and foolishness bestowed upon him by his Conservative preacher father concerning his son’s sexual orientation. Since his son can’t/won’t change for his father, the father throws him out of the house disowning him. The son was played by local Kansas City actor Mr. Joshua Barner.
The other character in the drama piece was a local Kansas City actor Mr. Matthew Kelso. Mr. Kelso’s character doesn’t have a name but was identified as the “unknown stranger.” I am laughing, reflecting on Mr. Kelso’s character in the play. At first, I thought his character was a stalker trying to take advantage of the character Daniel fragile state of mind, but that quickly changed.
What I really loved about “And Jesus Wept” that it was a very intimate play that didn’t need a lot of props. I am far from being a professional critic. I like what I like. I didn’t feel like I was an audience member, but I was sitting with Joshua and Matthew’s characters on that bench being a participant in their discussion.
The theater piece opened up with a visibly shaken and distraught Daniel sitting on a park bench. Along comes Matthew Kelso’s character pausing and staring at Daniel thus me coming to the conclusion he was sizing him up to be a trick. I thought ‘here we go, he is going to pretend he cares to get in his pants.’ In a very short time, my assessment of the ‘unknown stranger’ changes. I would like to think I quickly honed on his empathetic nature that Mr. Kelso portrayed, but I am sure a professional critic would feel otherwise.
What I found most frustrating about the character Daniel is that he knew the Bible inside and out. He also was quite knowledgeable of the Bible verses people like his father used to talk vulnerable LGBTQ+ folks in hating themselves or as they would profess ‘hating the sin, but not the sinner.’ Daniel also knew how to fight back against the lies/half-truths told by those lecherous ministers. Daniel was quite aware of how emotionally devastating it would be to women he would be on the ‘down-low’ with if they found out he was actually Gay and pretending. But his shady ass preacher dad could care less about that or his son’s happiness. Appearances were everything. Playwright Jeremiah Kauffman was brilliant off-stage playing the voice of Daniel’s father as Daniel was conveying to the’unknown stranger’ hurtful word his dad used against him in the past. Actor Joshua Barner gave me chills as the angry emotionally distraught Daniel. Several times I felt butterflies in my stomach with Mr. Barner’s performance.
As for Mr. Kelso’s performance as the ‘unknown stranger’, I found his performance as strong as Joshua Barner’s. His character’s voice/mannerisms were comforting. One could only imagine the strength you would have to have to try to prevent an out of control person from harming themselves or others. The self-control you would have to have not to run away frightened, especially if you were not a trained counselor or was trained in crisis management. I found a quiet strength in Matthew’s character.
Reading one professional critic’s review, all I could say to myself was, ‘well, duh.’ The critic was aware that Joshua and Matthew’s performance showed promise, but the play’s time restraint of a very complicated matter and also being the playwright’s first play didn’t allow the full development of the characters and other criticisms the critic had. The critic, in my opinion, acted like this was a play at a dinner theater where a lot of his critiques would be justified.
My further reaction to the critic was did we see the same play? I went to see ‘And Jesus Wept’ twice because I enjoyed it so much. The acoustics of The Black Box Theater was no fault of the actors or the playwright. The piece was about 30 minutes long. Personally, I thought the critic was asking for the moon concerning the time restraints, character development, movement, props, and stuff. Call me looney tunes. but at times I can be more entertained or find deeper meaning by simplicity than razzle-dazzle. I know how to open my mind and use my imagination.
The critic stated Matthew Kelso needed more movement to keep his audience engaged. Matthew was absolutely fine in physically, mentally and emotionally showing constraint. I did not find any trouble in him, keeping me engaged. Listening to others, I did not get that impression from them as well. But again, I am not a professional critic. I like what I like. I tend not to listen to critics. I want to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and form my own opinion.
I enjoyed the play so much, that I wanted to interview them for a Chuck’s Chat article. I was able to meet up with Jeremiah Kauffman and Matthew Kelso, but Joshua Barner was not available at the time.
Talking to Jeremiah Kauffman, I asked him where he got the inspiration. Mr. Kauffman replied. ” There were two incidents I had read about. One was about a teenager whose father caught him in bed with his lover. His father dragged him out of bed naked into the apartment parking lot. He had the boy down on his knees He was begging his father not to kill him right before his father shot him dead. The other was a teenager who committed suicide because he didn’t want to be Gay.
Between the years 2014 to 2017, I wrote it as a story starting when I was living in Ukraine. In 2018 I adapted it as a play after my cousin Heather Kauffman, a Wisconsin artist/writer, and Jose Faus, a Kansas City poet/activist told me it read more like a one-act play.”
Because of another commitment Matthew Kelso had, my attention turned toward him whose character I jokingly referred to as ‘the stalker.’ Mr. Kelso informed me “My acting coach emailed me about the play. The character I tried for was described as a bearded empathetic gentleman in his late 20s to early/mid-30s. I sent Jeremiah a 5-minute acting clip. ‘And Jesus Wept’ became the first professional play I acted in.
Even though I first acted in the 3rd grade in a play titled ‘Wak-a-Doddle Zoo’, it wasn’t until 5 years ago I started to get interested in acting. I was doing open-mic and stand-up all over Kansas City. Eventually, I want to move to Los Angeles. Kansas City is a stepping stone.”
Matthew Kelso is also a published writer. His book “Lonely The Heart Finds His Beat” can be found at BarnesAndNoble.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.
Mr. Kelso had to leave, so my attention went back to Jeremiah Kauffman. Since I knew nothing about The Kansas City Fringe Festival, Mr. Kauffman informed me it was an annual 2-week festival showcasing visual/performance pieces chosen by the Kansas City Fringe Festival Committee to showcase what they choose.
Mr. Kauffman reflected. “It took me a year to finally decide and actually apply. This was my first play. I wanted to try to get as much exposure as possible.”
At the end of the festival, there was an award ceremony held at the Union Station.
Jeremiah was chosen as “Best New Producer.”
Currently, Mr. Kauffman is working on 2 new plays.
Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are always welcome. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org