Persimmon Tree PlayersIt has been 13 years since Warren Johnson joined the Persimmon Tree Players (PTP), Fluvanna’s only community theater group. The group has been in existence and entertaining audiences for over 25 years.  Johnson joined up with PTP when the group of dedicated thespians had dwindled to a small ensemble and were trying to get some momentum going again.

Johnson, who is leaving his post as pastor of the Fork Union Baptist Church, will be returning to his home town of Franklin, Va., to become pastor at the Baptist church there. Johnson admitted it was a difficult choice to leave behind his parishioners and the theater group, but the idea of returning to his boyhood home exerted a strong influence. The PTP members gathered on Feb. 13 to wish Johnson well.

“I have enjoyed my journey with all of you,” Johnson said, adding his praise for their support of the theater group. Beth Sherk, who directs most of PTP’s plays, along with long-time member Thelma Stowell, said Johnson would be deeply missed.

Johnson has played many roles, including Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts, dual roles as Jonathon Brewster and Reverend Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace, and his favorite roles as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and Norman Thayer in On Golden Pond. Like Shakespeare’s “man who plays many roles,” Johnson was often typecast as villains and murderers; his sinister Jonathon Brewster and his chilling portrayal of Dr. Roy Flemming in Prescription Murder set the tone for his time with PTP. But Johnson broke free of his stereotypes and dramatic leading roles to play in comedies. One of his most memorable was the pompous politician Glen Cooper in Neil Simon’s Rumors.

Past cast members came together to reminisce about one of the unforgettable moments when Johnson played Pearl Burrus in Greater Tuna, trading in his gangsters, villains and murderers for a dress.

Whether he was the confused psychiatrist in Harvey or the bumbling bellhop in his last role in Suite Surrender, Johnson made audiences laugh. It was clear that, like his fellow actors, he enjoyed his time on the stage and in the spotlight.

PTP had once thrived under Mo Cahill and others who started it back in 1989, becoming part of the movement to bring performing arts to Fluvanna County. But after a while, the group shrank and faded until Marianne Hill, Bob Strohmayer and Stowell started the engine up again. Johnson joined them, supporting their efforts, and for a long time they struggled with finding a permanent venue until Strohmayer and Johnson partnered with the Fluvanna County Arts Council and formed a relationship with current president Adele Schaefer, who eagerly shared their vision. Now the group has found a home at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center.

Members realized how many lives Johnson touched while with PTP and the Arts Council. His dedication to his craft, plus his set design and building for all the shows at Carysbrook Performing Arts Center, will leave a void. His diligence and attention to detail, creative spirit and ideas were the bedrock of the group for the last 13 years.

Johnson had no stage fright at show time. He was always calm and focused, and effortlessly moved into his role once he stepped onto the stage. Johnson believed that no matter what was happening the show must go on, even when some thought it would never happen.

Little did Johnson know when he took his last bow that he would be leaving the group. The members of PTP are sad to lose someone who breathed life into a community theater group that needed a shot in the arm. The ragtag ensemble Johnson hooked up with 13 years ago has flourished under his guidance. Now Sherk will head up PTP as the members continue on on the journey that Johnson started with them.