BWW Interview: Libby Riggins And Christopher Rose of FIRST BAPTIST OF IVY GAP at Mill Town Players
1945. World War II is coming to an end and six women have gathered at First Baptist Church in Ivy Gap, TN, to roll bandages and plan the church's 75th anniversary.
Twenty-five years later, the "First Baptist Six" reunite, and we learn how their lives have changed - for better and worse - over the ensuing years.
Mill Town Players' production of Ron Osborne's Southern comedy First Baptist of Ivy Gap, opens May 24. It's a story of humor and pathos, with six very different women seeking comfort, forgiveness and redemption in each other.
BWW asked two of the show's key members to tell us about their journey to Ivy Gap. First up, Libby Riggins, who plays the preacher's wife. Then director Christopher Rose.
Actress Libby Riggins
First, please tell me about your character.
Edith is a Baptist pastor's wife, but not your typical. She is a bit liberated, longs for a world outside of the norm, and simply loves all. Edith is the funny one and is most at peace when all her world around her, is happy (whatever that means to each of the people in her life). Edith is the momma bear of the group.
How does the character's journey resonate with you?
I feel a little sad for her, at times. I feel she got stuck in Ivy Gap. When I say stuck, I mean, in that quicksand of married young, in the south, and part of a conservative family. I think, at times, she may have been unhappy, but life has always been that way, so it will continue to be. I relate to her a lot because of this. I think she has found a family, with these women. All people want to be accepted and loved; it is a basic human need, but her definition of "family" does not have to be blood connected. Part of me respects her for the stance of sticking, and making the most of her deck of cards, and part of me longs to see her live out dreams she never thought she could.
This seems to be a very character-driven play. You have a great talent for physical comedy - are you able to use those gifts in this play?
Yes! It has been so nice working with Chris Rose, as our director, and he allows for as many comedic liberties, as we want to take, until he feels it is necessary to have us back off. I LOVE that!...and now that I am more comfortable, being off book, it is going get fun!
How do you hope audiences will react?
I hope they laugh at times, cry at times, and walk away filled with love for everyone!
Director Christopher Rose
What was your first impression of the script?
When I first read the script, I thought it had a lot of charm. I worked in a church for a decade and the banter of these "church ladies" felt very nostalgic for me. I also felt the script had a lot of room for developing backstory and relationships to really flesh out the characters and make them three dimensional. And, I remember being interested in how to present the six characters at two points in their lives, twenty-five years apart in a way that was clear, and realistic.
How do you go about balancing humor and drama?
In a script like this the humor is there in the text. The laugh lines just pop out at you. It is the drama that really must be developed to find that balance and create a real world on the stage. As a male director, coming into a story about the life experiences of six women, I knew that I was going to have to depend upon drawing that drama out of the histories of my actresses. I resolved from the very beginning to spend my time helping them develop their relationships with one another and listening to the stories of their lives and how they connected with these characters in order to find those moments. And, these wonderful ladies never let me down!
What other plays would you compare this to?
The one that jumps to mind is Steel Magnolias. The sisterhood, the wit and the balance of comedy and gravitas are very similar. And, if Designing Women were ever sourced for script material, it might look something like this as well.
How do these characters continue to speak to us across generations?
The realities of the ladies of Ivy Gap in 1945 really mirror their situations in 1970. They have all just had time to marinate. There is another war to contend with. There are still secrets being kept. There is still the work of the church to be done. There are still dreams and hopes and disappointments. And, most importantly there are still the friendships that allow these threads to be woven together into a form of community and redemption. They speak to us in both acts with the voice of women cultivating each other.
What do you hope the audience will take away with them?
We need the stories of women and the voices of women in our lives more than ever. Women seem to intrinsically know this within their circles and communities, but as a society we often miss how important that perspective is. I hope the ladies in our audience walk away with the affirmation that their ideas and perspectives are invaluable treasures and that the gentlemen walk away with a greater respect for how much those voices can change us all for the better.
First Baptist of Ivy Gap
May 24 - June 9
Thurs - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 3pm
Mill Town Players
Historic Pelzer Auditorium
214 Lebby Street
Pelzer, SC 29669
Tickets $12, with $10 for seniors, military, and students
Picture by Escobar Photography. L to R: Ryvers Martin, DeAnna Gregory, Alyssa McMillan