Actors rehearse“Dewey Frye has just keeled over into his mashed potatoes while giving a speech at the Rotarian Club in New Edinburgh, Miss., and the first thing his widow, Dorothy, does is go straight to the grocery store. As she puts it, her ‘house is about to get as busy as the Big Star on triple coupon day.’ It seems not to have sunk in yet and everyone around her is waiting for her grief to catch up with her. The problem is the only one she really wants to talk to about it is Dewey and he is not there.”

This is how director Beth Sherk describes the opening of the upcoming performance of the Persimmon Tree Players (PTP). They will be performing Osborne & Eppler’s Southern Fried Funeral, described as big-hearted family comedy southern style.

Sherk said it is a small town story about dealing with death and greed, love and loss – things we often don’t want to think about. The writers treat the subject of death humorously, rounding it out with a cast of heartwarming southern eccentrics that will make audiences laugh.

Sherk has a flair for having her actors dig deep into their character’s souls, rummage around and pull out the nuances and the quirks of their character’s personalities.

Nicole Butt returns to the stage, playing the do-gooder daughter Sammy Jo. “She prides herself on helping everyone else with their problems, but can’t seem to fix her own,” said Sherk.

The older daughter, played by veteran actress Christina Henderson, is the complete opposite of her sister. “She has a reputation for playing it fast and loose and when she catches a whiff of judgment coming at her, she only plays it faster and looser as if she doesn’t really care. But secretly she does.”

Sherk labels it as a character play about real people dealing with real problems. The two sisters are determined to rake up the past and open up old wounds that have never healed. There is always a relative – in this play, Dewey’s brother – who sits perched like a vulture, waiting for an opportunity to cash in after someone dies. Rounding out the cast members, are familiar PTP players including George Gaige, Karol Carper, Bob Strohmayer, Stephanie Hess and Marianne Hill, along with a couple of newcomers.

“These are the kind of problems that unite us in that we all must face the end of things at some point in the ebb and flow of existence. But it’s a benevolent play, helping us to look at our human foibles with a light touch,” Sherk said.
Sherk made an insightful comparison to the ancient Greek value of theatre and the cathartic experience of looking at life through the characters – how it is shaped and expressed through their feelings and emotions. The audience no longer feels abandoned in their view of the world but can share it with those on stage.

The cast is midway through rehearsals, uncovering layers as they work.

“The actors are already bringing new dimensions to the words and that is one of the most exciting things about theatre for me as a director.  The process is what it’s all about,” Sherk said. “The audience doesn’t get to have nearly as much fun as we do just putting it together.  But theatre takes a lot of time – it’s old-fashioned that way – we can’t digitize this process. It’s face to face, real time, in the three dimensions. It’s a step by step human process.”

Performances will be April 22, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 and 30 at 3 p.m. at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center in Fork Union. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door and $10 for students, veterans and military. Tickets can be purchased online at www.carysbrook.org or by calling 434-842-1333 and leaving a message.