November 12, 2011 11:59:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
It's Christmas Eve in idyllic Mayberry, but old Ben Weaver is feeling like Scrooge. The fictional shop owner is determined that Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife must lock up Sam Muggins for transgressions Weaver takes exception to. Andy, on the other hand, thinks a little human kindness is in order on this special night. What ensues -- enacted by the YMCA Drama Team Nov. 18-19 at Rent Auditorium in Columbus -- is a heartwarming prelude to the season.
"The Christmas Story" episode from the ever-popular "Andy Griffith Show" is the only Christmas program ever written for the long-running series. It first aired Dec. 19, 1960.
"I chose 'The Christmas Story' this year because it's one of my personal favorites. ... It has all the laughs you'd expect and a whole lot of sentiment, too," said Y Drama Team director Terri Gillis. "Skip Burkart, who plays the part of Ben, does an outstanding job moving the audience to a true understanding of Christmas and reaching out to others in need."
Much like TV viewers who keep the 1960s program in constant syndication, Golden Triangle audiences never seem to tire of Andy, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee. An additional episode, "Convicts at Large," will be presented alongside the Christmas production. Ray Campbell of Columbus reprises the role of Andy for both.
"This is my second time to play Andy," said Campbell, who is the drama instructor at Immanuel Center for Christian Education. "I told Terri before that if she ever did it again, I wanted to come back, so I was overjoyed to get the call. This is a fun production to do."
And then, of course, there's Barney.
Gillis said, "Barney Fife, played by Brooks Pope, is a fine addition to our show this year. His comedic timing is perfect and is sure to keep the audience laughing from beginning to end."
Pope followed his two children, Nathaniel and Abbey, onto the stage.
"My kids were doing it, and one night, I was waiting outside in the car and finally went in (during rehearsal), and they grabbed me," laughed the Columbus fireman. Pope's 11-year-old son, Nathaniel, plays Opie. His 16-year-old daughter, Abbey, is also in the production. Yes, Pope admits they all start "blurting out lines" sometimes when they're in the car together.
"I was a Barney fan before, and I don't know if it's a compliment or not for them to think I'm a good Barney," he chuckled.
A tango for Barney
In "Convicts at Large, Barney and Floyd the barber -- played by Mark Crigler -- go fishing and wind up held captive by three escaped female convicts, the gruff Big Maude and her sidekicks, Naomi and Sally, portrayed by Bethany Brown and Krista Green.
"Ruthie Moss is Big Maude," smiled Gillis. "She's off-the-charts fabulous in this role; you'll be crying from laughing."
For these two episodes, Gillis, the cast and crew are making every effort to remain true to the classic show loved by so many.
"I want these to be as authentic as possible, with the careful selection of our cast of characters, along with the props and set pieces," she explained. "A jail cell is being built to house Mayberry's 'desperate criminals,' all of whom are YMCA staff members!" she added. CEO Andy Boyd, Perry Hendrix and Herman Peters have all consented to spending time behind bars in "The Christmas Story."
Campbell said, "The plays are true to the script of the show, and it is a lot of laughs, but I also think it's just good entertainment; it's so hard nowadays to find something you can bring the whole family to. And for $5 (in advance) or $6, you just can't beat that."
How to go
Tickets for "A Mayberry Christmas," featuring two enacted episodes of the "Andy Griffith Show," are $5 in advance at the Frank P. Phillips Y at 602 Second Ave. N., or at any Y branch. Admission at the door will be $6. Performances begin at 7 p.m. at Rent Auditorium on the campus of Mississippi University for Women Nov. 18-19.
For more information, contact the Y at 662-328-7696.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.