Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Baptist of Ivy Gap

Posted by Bruce Miller
When First Baptist of Ivy Gap plays at Hanover Tavern from Feb 5 through Mar 14, it will once again connect Barksdale with Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia and our sister stage company in Abingdon.

Barksdale and Barter have been close ever since 1967 when Barter's legendary founder, Bob Porterfield, invited Pete, Muriel and Nancy to send Barksdale's hit production of Stop the World, I Want to Get Off out to Barter, marking the first time that a guest company performed on Barter's landmark stage.

More recently, Phil and I have been good friends and professional colleagues with Rick Rose, Barter's current artistic director, since his arrival in Virginia 16 years ago. Next month we'll be partnering with Barter on Poetry Out Loud. Theatre IV facilitates this national poetry recitation program for high school students throughout Virginia. Barter will be hosting our regional competition in Southwest VA.

First Baptist of Ivy Gap was first introduced to a live audience when the script was produced as a staged reading during Barter's 2002 Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, a component of the Virginia Highlands Festival. The new comedy was so popular with Barter's audience that it was remounted during the 2003 Festival as a "mini-production." Based on popular demand, Barter mounted a full production (the World Premiere) as part of their mainstage season in 2004.

First Baptist is written by Ron Osborne (above and to the right), a St. Louis playwright who is enjoying being "discovered" in his 60s. He's writing a new play every year, and four have been produced either as readings or mainstage productions at Barter.

Recently, Osborne's new play Ruby's Story premiered Off-Off Broadway at New York's 13th Street Repertory Theatre. Firehouse Theatre supporters may recognize 13th Street Rep as the home of the longest running play in Off-Off Broadway history, Line by Israel Horovitz. In 2006, 13th Street Rep was named the "Best Off-Off Broadway Company to Act With" by Backstage.

First Baptist of Ivy Gap is Osborne's most successful play. It is a sweet and sentimental comedy about six Tennessee church women who gather during World War II to roll bandages (historical photo to the right) and plan for their church's 75th Anniversary. In Act II, they reunite during the height of the Vietnam War. Amidst the laughter (there's a LOT of laughter), world and local events test the women's friendship and faith. They pass the tests.

We have assembled an All-Star cast (with one terrific newcomer). Jan Guarino (Mona's Arrangements, The Clean House) is playing Edith, the pastor's wife who holds everything together while her husband gets all the credit. Joy Williams (Driving Miss Daisy, Barefoot in the Park) appears as Luby, the very worried mother of a WWII soldier.

Harriet Traylor (The Little Foxes, To Kill a Mockingbird) introduces us to Vera, a pillar of the church and wife of the local bank president. Maggie Roop (Doubt, Annie) is Mae Ellen, the church's rebellious organist. Ali Thibodeau (Thoroughly Modern Millie, The True Story of Pocahontas) plays Sammy, a sweet young woman from the wrong side of the tracks. And Sarah Pruden (new to Barksdale's mainstage) creates the role of Olene, a vivacious Tennessee mountain girl with her eye on Hollywood.

I'm having a ball directing the show. It's our Hanover entry into Central Virginia's Acts of Faith Festival.

If you're looking for a funny, sweet and reaffirming evening of theatre, I hope you'll join us.

--Bruce Miller

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