Last week, I conversed with Liz Britt, the president of the Friends of Tuckabatchee, which recently sponsored another presentation of “…And One Fire Still Burns,” a historical play about the visit of Shawnee warrior Tecumseh to the Muscogee Creek capitol of Tuckabatchee in 1811.
As noted previously in this space, the play had been presented outdoors at the Patterson Cabin in Tallassee several times, and had also been performed once out of town (also outdoors), and once indoors at the local high school. While the Friends of Tuckabatchee have sponsored others plays (including two that were staged at the Mt. Vernon Theatre in 2018), the early November presentation was the first time the Friends’ keystone/signature production had been proffered at the restored Tallassee entertainment landmark.
I thought the event went well; the play and the venue seemed tailor-made for each other. Britt agreed, and her first citation was the theater’s state of the art sound and lighting systems.
“Perfect,” she said succinctly. “(Sound and lighting tech) Jordan Cunningham is a professional.”
Indeed, the use of colored lighting in group scenes seemed to enhance the dramatic mood — Tecumseh’s speech being an obvious example — and the spotlight placement for monologues or duologues was, er, spot on. What’s more, Britt emphasized that the Mt. Vernon’s stage has plenty of room to accommodate scenes with a lot of actors.
During rehearsals, some of the new participants had struggled with memorizing their parts, as is probably the case with any local theater production anywhere. However, they came through for the actual performances, nailing their respective lines for their respective roles, which is a credit to their tenacity. What’s more, the new faces portraying important characters were well-received.
Whitney Watson, Steve Rogers, and Brittney Norrell Smith were cited by Britt as “masterful” for their efficient work with stage scenery, as well as lining up characters and distributing certain props to certain individuals for certain scenes. The backstage facet of the production ran like a well-oiled machine.
My perception was that the costuming was more elaborate and authentic than it had been for previous editions of the play.
What’s more, the new addition of the Gov. William Wyatt Bibb character was appropriate (and I didn’t recognize Isaac Kervin at first).
The addition of Native American reenactors and musicians is always a plus, and should be appreciated. This time, a traditional Cherokee dance was performed by Jack Crawford of Knoxville, Tennessee.
“That added a lot,” Britt said of Crawford’s performance. “It was another dimension.”
In the days of the Patterson Cabin performances, there had usually been an “Education Day” for area schools on Fridays, where busloads of kids from numerous communities would visit exhibits and displays depicting life in east central Alabama in the early 1800s. Native reenactors were an important part of that event, as well.
This time around, there was simply a performance of the play during school hours on Friday morning. Britt averred that the logistics of presenting the play were much easier than coordinating numerous displays and exhibits on the grounds of the Patterson Cabin. One might also think the students may have actually learned more history via the drama.
Britt was upbeat about one particular aspect of the attendance at the Saturday and Sunday performances.
“I was impressed by the number of people who came from Montgomery and Prattville,” she said.
A friend of mine from Alex City brought his 7-year-old grandson to the play. The tyke delighted in talking with cast members during meet-and-greet following the performance.
So maybe the word got around a bit this time. Such out-of-town attendance and a word-of-mouth follow up in other communities would really benefit both the Friends of Tuckabatchee and the Mt. Vernon Theatre regarding future performances.
And in that scenario, what productions should be presented? Locally-composed dramas or musicals that have been performed before? Newly-composed plays? “Traditional” musicals or dramas (“South Pacific,” “Death of a Salesman,” et. al.)?
Whatever production is presented next at the Mt. Vernon, I have no doubt that it will be staged in a professional manner that Tallasseans would enjoy attending, which is why such initiatives need to be supported.