If you had the chance to choose your final words, what would you write?
Find out how Lynn, a death row inmate, answers this question in Legacy, a short play by Westerville, Ohio, playwright Chris Shaw Swanson.
Legacy will be presented May 20 and 21 by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop as part of the inaugural Opera House PlayFest.
According to her website www.chrisshawswanson.com, Swanson began performing at the age of seven, progressing to community theater in early adulthood. This led to improv comedy at a local radio station where she also wrote promotions and commercials. The writing evolved into a job as an advertising copywriter, but her theatre muse eventually enticed her to return to her real love – play writing. Her work has been performed by more than 90 theater companies world-wide, and she has received numerous awards, including the Goshen Peace Play Prize.
When asked about the origins of Legacy, Swanson wrote: “I was inspired to write the play after my husband discovered on the Internet a listing of actual last words spoken by U.S. inmates prior to their executions. The listing led me to contemplate the impact Internet publication might have on today’s condemned criminals. Might convicts, for example, be more mindful in choosing their final words, knowing those words will be available for downloading by the public seemingly for years to come? Might some convicts also see those words as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, to propagate legacies based on untruths? Speculations like these drove me to write the play. Authentic convict quotes are incorporated – and properly cited – throughout the script.”
Portraying inmate Lynn is Jamie Strauss. Strauss is a Marlinton resident and, with her husband, Mark, owns the Clean Cow Laundromat. Strauss wowed audiences last year in her theater debut as the mesmerizing Irene Adler in the Drama Workshop production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.
Jay Miller will perform the role of Reverend. Miller, who resides in Hillsboro, is passionate about tutoring arithmetic and math at the Hillsboro and Marlinton Elementary schools. Miller also first appeared on stage in the Drama Workshop’s Sherlock Holmes, playing the befuddled King of Bohemia to great comedic effect.
Rounding out the cast is Jared Bennett as Player, who recites the last words of the inmates. Bennet is originally from Richwood, and currently teaches seventh grade English at Marlinton Middle School. This will be his first production since high school, and he is excited to be part of the cast.
Stylish versus sensible. Pizzaz versus practical. Confidence versus comfort.
The ultimate fashion shoe dilemma is explored in the 10-minute comedy Pumps, to be presented May 20 and 21 by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop as part of the inaugural Opera House PlayFest.
Pumps was written by playwright Brett Hursey, an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia. When asked how he became a playwright, Hursey replied, “I started out acting at a very young age all the way up to my late teens. Then I discovered in playwriting, I got to act all the parts first. Both my Master’s thesis and dissertation were two-act comedies.”
Hursey’s comedies have appeared in more than 200 theaters across the country including venues in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hollywood, as well as internationally in England, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Australia and Canada. He’s also had more than 50 off/off-off Broadway productions in Manhattan.
In his play Pumps, Stephie is a career-driven businesswoman who has an unhealthy relationship with her favorite pair of patent-leather heels. She loves the confidence she feels while wearing them, but the pain they cause her feet has become nearly too much to bear. Stephie’s tough-love husband, Dave, meanwhile, is determined to help her make a clean break from this shoe-cycle-of-abuse.
Stephie is played by Jamie Strauss. Her debut stage performance was as the dynamic Irene Adler in the 2015 Drama Workshop production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Strauss and her husband Mark own and operate the Clean Cow Laundromat in Marlinton.
The role of Dave will be played by Chris Curry, who portrayed villain James Larrabee in the Drama Workshop’s Sherlock Holmes, and also appeared as an extra in the films The Dark Knight Rises and Angel’s Perch. Curry moved to Pocahontas County in 2008 and is currently assistant manager of Rite Aid in Marlinton.
An alluring Flower raises her head toward the sunshine and sways gracefully in the breeze. Nearby, a captivated Weed, muddy and broken, admires her, while Fate lurks in the background.
Could beautiful Flower and ugly Weed have any kind of relationship, and how would Fate intervene?
Wheeling playwright Thomas Scott Stobart imagines this scenario in his short play Suburban Garden which will be performed as part of the Opera House PlayFest, the 2016 production by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop. Performances will be May 20 and 21 at the Pocahontas County Opera House.
Sometimes called “The Bard Of Wheeling,” Stobart may be better known in his hometown as the proprietor of the quirky Paradox Book Store, an old-fashioned used book establishment in the city’s historic market district. Stobart studied playwriting at H.B. Studios in New York, and has written six full-length and 17 one act plays. When Suburban Garden premiered in Pittsburgh in a festival of 10 minute, one act plays, Pittsburgh critic Christopher Ross proclaimed it the best of the festival. Stobart says that of all of his plays it is by far the most popular and has been produced as far away as Japan.
“I first saw this play in Wheeling’s StoFest play festival, back in 2010,” Opera House PlayFest director Eric Fritzius said. “The StoFest festivals were produced by Wheeling’s Independent Theatre Collective to honor the work of Tom Stobart by producing his short plays alongside those of other playwrights. Surburban Garden was by far my favorite play of the evening and I’ve been looking for a chance to direct it since. To me it cleverly captures some universal truths about romantic attraction.”
Marisol Carrillo Perera will play Flower. Perera grew up in El Paso, Texas, where she performed in her school choir and drama department. After graduation, she traveled the country working as a fashion model and makeup artist. Perera moved to Pocahontas County in 2008 when her husband began working for the NRAO. She earned a degree in Criminal Justice, is currently working for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and is a mother to three beautiful girls.
The role of Weed will be performed by Jared Bennett. Bennett participated in theater while a high school student in Richwood. He will also appear in Legacy, another of the seven Opera House PlayFest plays. Bennett, who lives in Lewisburg, teaches seventh grade English at Marlinton Middle School.
Laurie Cameron plays the role of Fate, a bird-like character of equal parts comedy and tragedy. While at Penn State, Cameron was Mortimer in The Man Who Dies, the Emperor Tsin Shi Wang Ti in Chinese Wall, appeared in The Fantastiks, and, in summer stock at the Boal Barn Playhouse, now the Nittany Theatre. He played Chrichton in the Admirable C. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cameron now resides in Hillsboro.
‘Tammy and Tom’
Ah, the complexities of modern dating!
How does a potential couple negotiate the maze of food sensitivities, lifestyle choices and movie preferences?
Playwright Jonathan Joy amuses with this question in his 10 minute comedy Tammy and Tom, to be performed as part of the Opera House PlayFest, presented by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop.
Joy is a professor of English/Writing at Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Kentucky, where he has been nominated for Teaching Excellence Awards six consecutive years. He has written more than 25 plays and a dozen one acts, and is the only two-time winner of the national award, “Write Like Mamet.”
“I wrote Tammy and Tom as a response to a writing prompt I gave a couple years ago to my students in a playwriting class I teach,” Joy explained. “It’s a short funny play that was fun to write. It’s been performed once on our campus in Ashland, and got a good response, and was subsequently published in The Furious Gazelle online literary journal and in my ‘More Short Plays and Monologues’ collection.”
Marisol Carrillo Perera will play Tammy, a young woman who is anxious about asking Tom out on a date. Perera first performed in her El Paso, Texas, high school choir and drama department. After graduation, she expanded her performance skills by working as a fashion model and makeup artist.
Perera and her husband moved to Pocahontas County in 2008 when he began working for the NRAO. She has a degree in Criminal Justice, works for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and is the mother of three lovely girls.
The role of food-challenged, stimulus-avoiding Tom will be Justin Richmond-Decker’s theater performance debut. Richmond- Decker has lived in West Virginia for a year and a half and, when not at his job as a software engineer at the observatory in Green Bank, enjoys playing guitar, hiking, camping, board/card games and visiting new places.
‘About the Baby’
What’s a mother to do when her ne’r-do-well son shows up with a baby she didn’t know he had?
This question is answered by Mississippi playwright T. K. Lee in About the Baby, to be presented as part of the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop’s Opera House PlayFest, May 20 and 21 at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton.
Janet Ghigo plays Gertie, the anxious mother trying to deal with her wayward son. Most of Ghigo’s theatre experience has been literally behind the scenes.
“I did lights for three and a half years of my four years at Bryn Mawr College,” Ghigo said. “In addition to three major productions per year, I designed lights for class shows, visiting performers, dance concerts and musical events.”
Ghigo and her husband, Frank, moved to Pocahontas County in 1988 and have been involved with the Drama Workshop doing sound and lights respectively since then. Ghigo appeared in front of the lights as Old Pearl in Between Two Worlds, the musical about the life of Pearl Buck performed in Hillsboro in 1992 on the 100th anniversary of Buck’s birth. She also appeared as Mom in the 2012 Drama Workshop production of A Nice Family Gathering.
The role of Reggie, Gertie’s troubled son, will be performed by Chris Curry. Curry previously portrayed villain James Larrabee in the Drama Workshop’s Sherlock Holmes, and appeared as an extra in the films The Dark Knight Rises and Angel’s Perch. Curry will also appear as Dave in the play Pumps, another PlayFest production.
The play itself is set in Mississippi, where its playwright T. K. Lee was raised and still lives today. When asked about his playwriting, Lee explains, “I know that I am considered by some to be firmly rooted in the tradition of Williams and Faulkner and Welty, et al. before me, and not simply by being from Mississippi, but also by being southern and a writer. And while I embrace my southerness, if you reach further down, to that root, you’ll find that it is thick and runs a way across the country. In turns, About the Baby is as much the red hills of Mississippi as it is the coal mountains of West Virginia, or the breadbasket of the Midwest. Gertie and Reggie could live in any rural town; they could be anyone’s neighbors.”
Lee said that About the Baby began as a personal writing exercise and nothing more – at least, at first. “I was fleshing out a storyline for Gertie and Reggie for a possible story for a collection I am slowly putting together. But after I finished this writing exercise and saw that I had written a ten-minute play, I rather liked it. It is in keeping with my usual style which is one of story reduction rather than plot reveal. I think it creates tension and engages an audience to participate in the story or the play.”
Eric Fritzius, director of the PlayFest, says, “About the Baby is a play I wanted to direct because it stuck with me for days after I first read it. And on each subsequent read, I’d discover new layers to it that I’d missed before. It’s a play that takes its time and is unafraid of long pauses. These would normally be filled with conversation between the characters, and they do still find ways to converse. But About the Baby is often more about what the characters are not saying to one another than what they are saying. They should be having a conversation about a very specific topic, but both are hesitant to do so for their own reasons. Sometimes the audience can only guess at these, but things do become clearer.”
Fritzius says he also chose the play with the goal of bringing some of his home state of Mississippi to the stage of the Opera House. He knew that Lee, with whom he has been friends for 25 years, would have the perfect play to do this.
“He’s a very good writer,” Fritzius said. “And he’s spectacular at capturing the essence of the south, and small town life in particular, in very few words. I knew these people. I recognized them as being of the same stock as my own family. They feel completely and effortlessly genuine and audiences will be able to see that in the performances of Janet and Chris.”
For sixty years Old Man Hartsook has been the maker of the town’s favorite illegal beverage in Eldridge, West Virginia.
Formerly discrete in his dealings, he has now been arrested for setting up a moonshine stand in the Kroger parking lot. His attorney will have a tough job defending him. But he has the local sheriff and the town doctor to help him. They, too, want to see the old man freed, but for their own reasons.
Can they come to an agreement about his fate?
Playing Cards by Twilight’s Shine will be presented as part of the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop’s Opera House PlayFest, to be performed May 20 and 21 at the Opera House in Marlinton.
PlayFest director and playwright Eric Fritzius explained his inspiration for the play:
“To use moonshiner terminology, this play is a mash with a lot of different ingredients – too many to list here. A major one, though, is that I myself come from moonshiner stock. My papaw was a moonshine runner in Mississippi during the early years of the 20th century. He was out of the business for decades by the time I was born, so I never got to sample any moonshine myself before moving to West Virginia. So the play is also inspired by one such memorable sampling – or, over-sampling, as it turned out – of a specific tasty variety of moonshine that I found both staggeringly good and incredibly dangerous.”
Fritzius said the story is also inspired by a very real problem for small town America.
“It’s a story about a town fighting fire with fire – or, using one incredibly dangerous, though enjoyable, substance as protection from more destructive ones.”
While Fritzius will direct this play, he says he owes a debt of gratitude to Courtney Sussman, who first directed “Playing Cards…” in February for the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg.
“I’m pretty much stealing her excellent direction, not to mention most of her cast,” he said.
Fritzius is stepping in to perform the role of Howard Rainey, Old Man Hartsook’s city-slicker-newly-arrived-in-town public defender.
Larry Davis, of Lewisburg, is cast in the role of Doctor Robert “Doc” Adams. Davis has acted in five dozen productions in Greenbrier County, the majority of which were with the Greenbrier Valley Theatre. Others included every Riders of the Flood outdoor drama season in Ronceverte, four plays by Courtney Smith, and portrayals of historic characters at North House Museum in Lewisburg. He has performed previously in the Pocahontas County Opera House with the Greenbrier Valley Chorale.
The role of Sheriff Terry Lane will be played by Chally Erb. Performance artist Erb came to Pocahontas County with the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s. A dancer, clown and actor, he has performed for more than 30 years with the Trillium Performing Arts Collective in Lewisburg. His contributions to Trillium were recently honored with Chally’s Follies, a collection of movement pieces that included the debut of his latest work, a duet with his wife and fellow artist, Beth White.
‘…to a flame’
What would you do if you accidentally killed the Mothman?
Playwright/actor/director Eric Fritzius weaves a comedic tale of friendship, foibles and fate in his short play …to a Flame, to be presented May 20 and 21 as part of the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop’s Opera House PlayFest.
When asked about the origin and history of the play, Fritzius explains, “…to a Flame began as a short story in a writing workshop taught by [West Virginia] author Belinda Anderson. he gave us a Halloween horror writing prompt to take inspiration from, which was: You find a dead body. The dead body that occurred to me belonged to the legendary Mothman, a creature that reportedly plagued Mason County, some decades back. Those familiar with the legend know that seeing a live Mothman is almost never a good thing. I figured seeing a dead one couldn’t be much better, and shooting one by accident would be even worse. Instead of a horror story, I wrote a humorous one about a guy who does just that. I later adapted it for the stage. It’s been produced several times around the state and will be one of three of my plays to be produced for the upcoming West Virginia Playwrights Festival in Clarksburg. The original short story appears in my book A Consternation of Monsters.”
Dwayne Kennison’s portrayal of Virgil Hawks in …to a Flame will be his sixth performance with the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop since his debut in 2009 in The Comet of St Lomis. He also performs live character poetry as “Uncle Edward Wabbit” and was an actor in the film “Angel’s Perch.” He is a published writer, songwriter and musician. He currently plays drums and sings with the rock bands COLD ETHYL, and LIGHTNING ROSE and is a Saturday DJ on Allegheny Mountain Radio. Born in Maryland, Dwayne now lives in Pocahontas County with his wife and two adult children.
John C Davis brings extensive theatre experience to the role of Jeff. While in college Davis performed in Dear Delinquent, Matchmaker, Girls in 509 and Separate Tables. He participated in Maryland Community Theatre including directing Blythe Spirit and Goodbye Charlie. He has appeared in eight previous Pocahontas County Drama Workshop productions, most recently in Proof. Davis says, “One of the things I love most about doing theatre is the co-operation that exists in order to give an entertaining product to an audience – and that moment, when, as an actor, you somehow `know’ that the audience is ‘with’ you and not just ‘observing’ you.”
The Opera House PlayFest will include six other short plays, spanning comedy, drama and points in between. The festival will be performed May 20 and 21 beginning at 8 p.m. each evening at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton.
Parents should be aware that some of the plays contain adult themes that may not be suitable for young children.
The Pocahontas County Drama Workshop is community theater supported by Dramas Fairs and Festivals, Parks and Recreation and the Board of Education. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. For more information, visit the Opera House website at pocahontasoperahouse.org or call 304-799-6645.