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"Kings of Israel" by Schaeffer Nelson examines the relationship between King David and King Saul.
"Kings of Israel" by Schaeffer Nelson examines the relationship between King David and King Saul.
J. Michael Strange and courtesy of KC Fringe Festival

"Kings of Israel"

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Up-and-coming new playwright, Schaeffer Nelson submitted two pieces to the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival,–“ Fishers of Men” and “Kings of Israel”– the first being a short 15 minute one act and the second a full 60-and minute presentation.

"Kings of Israel" explores relationship of David and King Saul.
J. Michael Strange and courtesy of KC Fringe Festival

Nelson’s original play, “Kings of Israel,” premiered 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.

“Kings of Israel” brought three talented young actors to the forefront as they worked through this production. As the Prophet Samuel, Joshua Gleeson gave the strongest of the characters. Gleeson developed two separate characters, Samuel and another character, giving him the chance to show more of his range of talent. He’s a very good actor.

J. Will Fritz and David and Michael Hudgens as Saul both gave strong performances. Their characters remained strong throughout the show. Fritz maintained a calm, collected but conflicted David, while Hudgens played a paranoid, volatile, and enamored King. Fritz’ character was challenged to play docile and focused on goodness. Hudgens got to play the angry aggressor. Together they created a dynamic duo on stage.

“Kings of Israel” does pose unanswered questions from the Bible. Nelson looks at the possibility of a homosexual relationship of sorts without pushing the limits too far. Such activity as homosexuality and prostitution are documented from literature prior to Biblical text, so just putting a suggestion to a male/male relationship only pushes the envelope, but does not break the seal.

The performances of “Kings of Israel” for the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival ended, but this work will most likely continue to develop. It would be a shame for Nelson to put it away for good.

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.”