Brooklyn Tenement Residents Experience Visit from Mysterious Stranger in a Modern “Story of Christmas”

BY GEORGE J. DACRE

(L-R) Jelani Jeffries (Jevon) Keith Bulluck (Artemus) "Artemus telling Jevon that the others are ready to forgive him. (In background Matt Masiello - Amanda Castro-Conroy)

In his latest effort, writer and director Samuel Harps takes on the greatest story of all-time and it is a work of art. While we all struggle to keep the spirit of Christmas in the wake of the terrible massacre of children and women teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, Harps “The Present,” presented last Thursday and Friday at Shades Repertory Theatre in the Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Haverstraw.

The show did indeed carry the message and with an extraordinary cast led by Keith G. Bullock as Artemus, the mysterious stranger, the audience witnessed some meaningful acting. Bullock’s facial expressions and dialogue carried the story as one after another of the tenement residents came upon him gazing into the skies, looking and following the North Star as the Three Wise Men did.

Artemus knew all about their lives and troubles and presented a father-like figure that puzzled them all with his thoughts about hope and the future and peace. Marcus and Taylor Oliver (played by Rahiem Wilson Morgan and Eben’ee Collens) could have been Mary and Joseph.

Marcus and Taylor had been in a neighborhood deli when a robbery attempt was made, with Taylor being shot. Other tenement residents Richard and Lisbeth (played by Mathew Masiello and Amanda Castro-Conroy), Cameron (played by Donna James) and Wilcox (Justin Smith), who were also in the deli the time of the robbery and shooting were all fearful and not quite in the Christmas spirit.

But Artemus kept urging them all to watch the North Star and hope for peace and goodness.And isn’t it ironic that this play “The Present” contained an incident of shooting the same week that that the shooting occured in Newtown, Connecticut.

And so the story continued with some very good acting and finally an appearance by the shooter Jevon (played by Jelanie Jeffries) who told them all and especially Taylor Toliver that he would do no more harm.

Presents came to all with Lisbeth and Richard getting the information that Lisbeth was pregnant and going to have a baby. Cameron, who was suicidal, gets the present of wanting to live. Jevon, the shooter, wants forgiveness and peace with all and Taylor and Marcus want their baby to be born and a little child is born in the tenement in Brooklyn.

The spirit of Christmas does live on as it did when the little child was born in Bethlehem. Harps and Shades Repertory brought good feelings to their theatre and stage and audience Thursday night, when I reviewed, with a well done production. As I have said before, something is happening at Shades Rep and will build in 2013.

I rate “The Present” Three out of Four Stars. Next up is a Christmas Carol reading by Suzanne Ducharme, December 20.