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'Kings of Israel' proposes twists to traditional Biblical heroes

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Young, local playwright, Schaeffer Nelson, explores Biblical legends and creates a provocative story with Biblical heroes, King Saul and David as subjects for his 2014 Fringe Festival entry, “Kings of Israel,” to be presented at various times during the Kansas City Fringe Festival, July 17-28.

Nelson’s show plays at Phosphor Studios, 1730 Broadway Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64108 with performances on: Friday, July 18 at 6 p.m.; Sunday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, July 25 at 9 p.m.; Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m.

Nelson’s original play, “Kings of Israel,” premieres at Kansas City’s 10th Annual Fringe Festival and tells a Biblical story with a queer sensibility that places the young shepherd David in a series of bedroom conversations with a violent, paranoid King Saul. In the play, David must test the limits of intimacy with a king whom he is secretly charged by God to overthrow, Nelson said. The boundary lines of love, violence, and trust must be crossed if David is to achieve his goal.

“I directed Schaeffer when he was a kid in a couple of my productions,” Phil Kinen, local director, said. “He had a play that he asked me to look at and asked me to help coach him. Well, it was pretty remarkable from the onset and had even greater potential. His play, entitled ‘Kings of Israel’ is about the Old Testament's King Saul and King David's love affair. Now, it turns out, I am directing his play for the Fringe Festival. Another young actor that I work with, Will Fritz, is in the cast.”

According to the info for the Fringe website: “Already, discussions of the play’s content have stirred up tense conversations: Is it too queer for the Bible? Can Biblical stories be this steamy? One thing is for certain: You didn’t see this version in Sunday school.”

Kings of Israel stars Michael Hudgens as King Saul , J. Will Fritz as David, and Joshua Gleeson as the Prophet Samuel.

“Irreverently comedic and increasingly tense, ‘Kings of Israel’ retells the complex and dangerous relationship between King Saul and David, the first two kings of Biblical Israel,” Nelson said about his play. “After King Saul proves to be unstable and violent, the Prophet Samuel secretly anoints an isolated young shepherd, David, to be Saul’s usurper.

“Before David fulfills God’s plan and assume the throne, he is dispatched to be Saul’s private musician. Over the course of a series of bedroom conversations, the intimacy between the two men deepens. As bloody choices draw near, David questions where his loyalty to God ends and his relationship with King Saul begins.

“‘Kings of Israel’ takes the Biblical story in a provocative new direction. The play contains sexual content, violence, and adult language and is for mature audiences,” Nelson added.

Schaeffer Nelson authored last year’s original play, “OUTSpoken KC: Love and Marriage,” that premiered in October 2013 at Unity Temple on the Plaza and received an encore performance in January 2014 at Peace Christian Church UCC. His short play “Fishers of Men” will also premiere at this summer’s Fringe Festival, directed by Scott Cordes as part of “More 4 Play.”

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