From left, actors Cherri Golden and David Trotter, of Columbus, and Kris Lee, of Starkville, rehearse Saturday to take Tennessee Williams’ “Kingdom of Earth” to the upcoming Mississippi Theatre Association Festival in Vicksburg. Local performances are Jan. 12. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
January 8, 2014 9:43:50 AM
When the curtain goes up on the Mississippi Theatre Festival in Vicksburg Jan. 16-19, Columbus will be represented in the competition for the first time, by a production from the Tennessee Williams Tribute Committee. On Sunday, Jan. 12 Golden Triangle audiences will have three opportunities to attend pre-festival performances of Williams' "Kingdom of Earth" and help send the cast, crew and set to the statewide contest.
Donor rehearsal performances are Sunday at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. at Rent Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus. A talkback, or Q&A, with actors and director follows the 6 p.m. performance. The play is recommended for mature audiences.
Suggested minimum donations at the door are $10 per person. Teachers and students will be admitted free. Proceeds will defray about $2,000 in competition expense, which includes transport and lodging.
"We need donations to take this great production from Columbus to the festival," said Tribute founder Brenda Caradine. "We're really depending on the community, which has supported the Tribute's plays so much in the past, to do so again."
To the drawing board
The Tribute first presented Williams' turbulent play in Columbus in April 2013. M.J. Etua of Starkville directed and later championed taking "Kingdom" to competition. The characters' issues are as relevant in 2014 as they were when Williams first penned the dialogue, said Etua.
"M.J. is such an inspiration," said Caradine. "I say, 'Can we do it?' and she says, 'Why not?'"
An early challenge was to develop a condensed script, a cutting, to meet MTA's strict 60-minute time limit. That meticulous task fell to Etua.
"The most important thing to me was to stay true to Tennessee Williams and what he wanted to share with the world," said the director, who is a former MTA president and active in Starkville Community Theatre. "I usually cut to the very bones, keeping the author's intent and sequence of events. Then I tell the actors, 'Now you may fight for what you want to keep.'"
The cast -- Cherri Golden and David Trotter of Columbus, and Kris Lee of Starkville -- lobbied for scenes they felt best enhance the story of three characters embroiled in a carnal power play for souls and possession of a decrepit, ancestral home in the Mississippi Delta of 1960.
Cherri Golden portrayed Myrtle for the 13 performances in Columbus in 2013 and revives the role for the contest.
"This is my first experience in having to un-learn a play," she said, referring to the adjustment to an adapted script. "But I'm thrilled to be going to MTA. We really wanted to get Columbus and the Tennessee Williams Tribute name out there more."
Production and technical crew hail from the Golden Triangle. Their responsibilities with set, costumes, lighting and sound must be tightly timed and fine-tuned, too. That's why Sunday's audiences will see not only the play, but the stage set-up and strike, too. MTA limits both to 10 minutes each.
"It's a little nerve-wracking, but I'm excited to be a part of it," said props mistress Melissa Duncan, who has gathered authentic period props for the '60s-era set.
Caradine emphasized that taking the play to Vicksburg is only possible with support from "heroes" in the community -- those like property owner Gayle Guynup, who loaned her building at 425 Main St. for rehearsals, and MUW, for the use of Rent Auditorium Sunday. Others have contributed in numerous ways.
"Kingdom of Earth" will be performed for MTA judges and audience Jan. 18 at the Vicksburg Convention Center. The time is to be announced.
For more information about Sunday's performances in Columbus, or the MTA presentation, contact Caradine at 662-328-5413, or follow the Tennessee Williams Tribute on Facebook. Learn more about MTA at mta-online.org.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.