BWW Interview: Reed Halvorson, director of DEARLY DEPARTED at Mill Town Players

BWW Interview: Reed Halvorson, director of DEARLY DEPARTED at Mill Town Players

In the Baptist backwoods of the Bible Belt, the beleaguered Turpin family proves that living and dying in the South is seldom tidy and always hilarious.
Dearly Departed, a "drop dead funny" comedy by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, opens next week at Mill Town Players in Pelzer, SC. I asked the show's director, Reed Halvorson, to give us some inside scoop on what to expect from this show's family of Southern eccentrics.

BWW: First, please tell us a little about the show.
This is a hysterical Southern comedy that finds the Turpin family having to come together when the patriarch of the family, Bud, suddenly passes away. Let's just say, this family isn't without its faults. When they all come together, it's fireworks We like to say we're putting the 'fun' in dysfunctional family. When we get the Turpin family back together again along with a few of the local friends of the family, it's comedic chaos to maximum degree. It is full of Southern characters you will compare to someone you know tied together with a family drama you've experienced or heard about. It's an ideal show for this area and I think this cast brings the honesty to these over-the-top characters.
BWW: What are some of your favorite moments in the show?
That's like trying to choose your favorite child! I'm going to say the moments when we get a larger portion of the family members together to pick out a casket, serve food at the visitation, and at Bud's funeral, there is so much going on that the play elevates to another level. We found so many extra moments in the play to illustrate the complexity of this family in really silly ways that it really makes this production unique. I also like the surprise moments of heart that we've uncovered. They may be silly and flawed characters, but these moments make you like and care for them. That's a really nice touch the actors have been able to handle with ease.
BWW: How do you approach directing a broad comedy like this?
The nice aspect of this, is there are quite a few shorter scenes with only two or three characters. This allowed us to really mine the characters first, finding the way they talk, move, and think. This helped to refine the humor throughout the show, especially in scenes with more characters. We were committed to find EVERY joke and ensure they are in the clear. Then encouraging creativity, colloboration, and input from the actors who are actually walking in the shoes of their character. The final aspect is to be clear without being boring. That's a fine line in comedy, but when we find it together, we all have been able to laugh. That would be the final aspect. If we can still make each other laugh, we know we are not only doing our job but maintaining the fun. That can't be wiped out. The moment it gets too serious, comedy is absolutely no fun whatsoever.
BWW: Has the rehearsal process helped you discover anything in the show that you hadn't noticed when just reading the script?
With this cast, we have found a lot of moments that physically happen that shape our version of this show. To be clear, that's not changing script, it's just our way of revealing the characters, the story, and the humor. There are not many stage directions, so the way this play moves is all created by us together. A moment where a character is given some medicine for her nerves is altered for a laugh. A character that is eating a snack is delivered in a unique way to add an extra laugh. The use of a corndog elevates the humor of a speech. Our presentation of a chorus is wildly unique from the simple description in the script. Those were all found in the rehearsal process informed by the actor's choices and freedom to play.
BWW: Are there any special challenges (or joys) about directing at Mill Town as opposed to other places?
One of the obvious challenges is that the stage and offstage space is not large, so we needed to be economical in the staging, furniture, and set design. That has not limited this theatre in the past, it only encourages us to use every ounce of our creative juices. Utilizing areas of the stage in a unique way to break things up also gives the audience a new look, even though we really haven't gained any more room. But at times we have to make adjustments to ensure that the audience can see all the action once in the space, which can take a little extra time. Oh, a little teaser, we did something creative to help with quick transitions by creating a versatile piece of furniture. It's seen in almost every scene and totally works and I think it's super cool how effective it ended up being. It was a wild idea in our first production meeting that has paid off big time in the end.
The great joy about Mill Town is that it attracts incredible people to work with. The production team is incredible and has helped make this process so easy and will make what appears rather simple on the page far more refined and polished. This show will maintain the high standard of production quality that has been expected at Mill Town. Also, the folks that audition for these shows embody the honesty of theatre. Some have limited experience, all have day jobs or are retired, but it's the joy of being onstage they look forward to. I can relate, care for, and appreciate that honesty in wanting to be in a play. That helps make the process so meaningful to them and the laughs will be their final payment, and that will be enough. Hard not to have deep respect for that.
BWW: You're also a very talented actor. How does that background help you in directing?
Thank you Neil, I didn't even have to pay you (this time) for the compliment. I like to think I'm actor friendly. I'm also still learning and trying new things, so I use what has worked combined with a willingness to try something new. I want to ensure the actors are in a position to succeed at all times, comedically or dramatically. I know what it is like to not get enough input or too much, so I hope to be able to just support and encourage their process because confidence is immeasurable. In turn, I love comedies. So, I think I'm a little fearless in finding as many moments of humor in between, around, and inside lines to get every laugh we can for the actors. I think that helps the actors feel less insecure about taking a chance themselves. And the cutting up I do as I direct creates an inviting, yet focused environment where humor is welcomed and can thrive.
BWW: What do you hope audiences will come away with?
That when it comes to family, we don't have to like each other to love each other and perhaps it's our ability to laugh at that fact that will keep anyone from crying. Or at least you can leave knowing your family isn't half as messed up as the Turpins!


WHEN: May 25 - June 10

SHOWTIMES: Thurs - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 3pm

WHERE: Mill Town Players, Historic Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby Street, Pelzer, SC

Tickets are only $10, with discounts for seniors, military, and students, and can be
purchased online at, by calling (864)947-8000, or at the door.

Photo credit: Escobar Photography

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From This Author Neil Shurley

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