ALABAMA RAIN at Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center this February

ALABAMA RAIN at Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center this February

Marshall University's School of Theatre will be presenting Alabama Rain, Heather McCutchen's tale of a town where the rules of time seem to not exist and five women must learn to put their past behind them and push forward, at the Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre at the JCE Performing Arts Center.

Performance Dates: February 14th - 17th, 2018 & February 22nd - 24th, 2018 at 7:30 PM

Location: The Joan C. Edwards Playhouse, 5th Avenue, Huntington, WV 25703

Ticket Price: Free for full-time Marshall students with MUID, $20.00 for Main Stage General Admission, $15.00 for Main Stage Faculty/Senior Admission, and $7.00 for Children Ages Five to Twelve. You can purchase tickets via Ticketmaster or by calling the box office at 304-696-ARTS (2787)

Alabama Rain is, at its center, a tale about leaving the past behind and learning what it means to take control of your own life. The story centers on the LaDean sisters: Monty Lou (Abby Yazvac), Laurie Laurie (Story Moosa), Rachel (Neely Seams), Pheenie (Charity Irby), and Dallas (Kelsey Hofe). Monty Lou has been pregnant for nearly ten years and beginning to believe she'll remain pregnant for eternity. She spends most of her time wallowing in self-pity and complaining. Laurie Laurie, named after both her grandmothers, hates change so much that she dies of shock when one of her sisters decides to abruptly depart the house. Despite being dead, she refuses to be buried and instead spends her time as a spirit whining and singing, much to her sisters' annoyance, from atop an old magnolia tree. Rachel has a sneaking suspicion that time has stood still, but is too busy searching for an Ouija Board to deal with the annoying spirit in her yard to figure out why. She must also decide what to do with the stubborn corpse of her sister which refuses to leave her parlor. Pheenie has decided to set out on her own, walking the entire coast of Florida in hopes of seeing the ocean. While Dallas, the youngest sister but by no means the feeblest, is the most headstrong of the five and is determined to save her sisters from whatever is going on in their small town.

The sisters have long held a theory that the mysterious well in their yard has water at the bottom, despite never actually finding any. Together they will struggle to overcome "the way things have always been" while simultaneously discovering their selves and their calling in life.

I had a chance to speak with two stars of this show, Story Moosa and Charity Irby, about their characters and what makes this show so unique and powerful and why its message is one that is needed right now.

Story Moosa, who portrays Laurie Laurie in the play, spoke to me about what initially drew her to the show. "I've been a part of two previous 5-actor casts at Marshall, and both shows really challenged my abilities as an actor." Moosa explains how the small cast helps give a defining edge to shows, stating how small casts have taught her, "About the creativity and tension a small group creates organically, simply out of the nature of the work." She went on to state, "knowing that this show followed that (small cast) layout, but was entirely female, really pushed me to want to be in this show."

Charity Irby, who portrays Pheenie LaDean in the play, was also intrigued by the small, all woman cast, "The first thing that caught my eye was that it is an all-woman show. Being a proud intersectional feminist, I was ecstatic." Irby went on to reiterate the benefits of having such a small cast, "I am often drawn to intimate theatre like this. It creates just a genuine and personal process."

As for details about her character in the show, Moosa states, "well, for one, she is dead within the first 7 pages of the play, and then she remains with her sisters as a ghost, but a very living ghost, if that makes sense." Moosa explains how this is possible, "she interacts with her family physically as if she is not a ghost, and yet, she has this other side that is very aware of this 'other world' beyond the veil." In the end though, ghost or not, Laurie Laurie's character is, "fallible, and very childish, and that's where the humor in her character comes out."

Irby's character plays a much different part in the story, "Pheenie is a character but also the story teller of the play. She is the reason the play is happening, without her the story wouldn't be told." As for whether Irby had played a character like Pheenie before, she stated that she is, "unlike any character I've played. Pheenie talks directly to the audience throughout the play."

Irby takes some time to explain about the play's absurdist vibe and the use of gesture work by the actors, "It's a strange play but in the best way possible. It hasn't rained in Alabama in 30 or 40 years, one of the sisters has been pregnant for 10 years and there are dead people walking around." Despite the absurd nature of the play, Irby assures audiences that there is much more to the story than just strange happenings and that she is excited for audience members to experience the story.

As for gesture work, the women are asked to choose three different gestures to drill with, Irby explains, "I think the gesture work is aiding in finding the "souls" of each of our characters. Just because the circumstances of the play are absurd, these women still have emotion, opinions, goals and reactions." Irby does state that they are early on in their use of gesture work, but are learning to use it as a form of communication with each other. "I can't wait to see how Leah (Director) will direct us to incorporate it in our character work next."

For Irby, Alabama Rain is important for multiple reasons, but is also a bit bittersweet as it is the final show of her undergrad career, "I couldn't be happier that Alabama Rain is my final show of my undergrad. It's unique, funny, challenging, fresh and spiritual. It confronts the norm and questions the idea of time. I love it."

Moosa decides to delve into the more feminist aspects of the play and how the show perfectly meshes both dark comedy and the power of women. "It's a dark comedy, but so self-aware of both the audience and the world of women. I love anything that creates a thriving dynamic between multiple women, whether that be Pride and Prejudice, Steel Magnolias, or Little Women, that does not create jealousy, but introduces us to the levels on which women exist in each other's company." She goes on to praise how the show brings the sisters together, rather than allows them to be torn apart due to the tribulations they encounter.

Continuing with the pathos of the story, Moosa speaks specifically of a line uttered by Pheenie during Act II. "It was like my poor sisters kept saying please and thank you and nobody was saying yes or you're welcome." For Moosa, this line really hits home, "This line is so poignant and fitting for what women experience constantly, and hearing her say it makes me so excited and so proud to be a woman, witnessing another woman reveal this truth. It's just one of these moments that makes you think, 'Damn, that's good'"

"The fact that this play is able to show that women are not dependent on the idea of a male savior, nor is there any conflict brought about by a man, shows that women's issues can be spoken about and laughed about without pitting one against the other due to men." Moosa says before adding, "One sister is not inherently better than the others, they are all equally weird and layered."

"My favorite part of the play is when the sisters finally reunite and we see how changed everything finally is," Irby replies, when asked if any particular scene stood out in her mind. "Every sister is significantly different, Alabama is different."

When asked about the cast and crew both Irby and Moosa had only praise, "our cast is wonderful. I have worked with all of them in varying degrees of closeness throughout my college career, and this play gives us the playing space to grow even closer and to test one another," says Moosa. This closeness helps each member of the cast to grow as actors, "One of my favorite things about being an actor is being able to witness the talent of other people, and be pushed by them."

Irby praises the team involved saying, "We have a dedicated team, mainly made up of upper class students in our theatre department." Comfort comes easily to Irby after years of working with this group of talented individuals, "I am very at home with this cast and crew from years of growing with each of them. I have my dream team on this one."

As for the crew, Moosa is equally forthright with her praise, "Leah Turley (Director) is the best friends you've always wanted, and the artist you strive to be. Her understanding of text and her ability to lay out the scenes as concisely and actor-friendly as possible makes her a terrific director. She's also the most outrageously funny and 'real' person you'll ever encounter." As for the show's stage manager, Kayden Reynolds, Moosa explains, "he's so prepared and so personal with everyone, and that creates a comfortable environment. He's also an incredibly resourceful person in general, and always knows about the set and props progress so that everyone does their best work right off the bat."

When asked what potential audience members should expect when attending this show Moosa replied, "go into this show as unsuspecting as you can, and just experience it with us." She also adds, "It's going to be funny and ridiculous, so who doesn't love that?"

Irby wants the audience to feel that they are part of the show, "Alabama Rain is a show specifically written to directly bring the audience on the journey of these superstitious sisters. In Marshall University's production we aim to truly embrace this idea."

In closing, Moosa takes a moment to get serious about what this play means to her and the other women involved, citing the recent push by women for equal rights in both the world and the entertainment industry, as well as the right to stand up for their selves against harassment and discrimination. "This play comes at a very important turning point in my life, and in the lives of a lot of women in the entertainment business. There is something beautifully comforting when a group of women come together not to belittle or to attack, but hold one another up and tell their stories, without fear of backlash. I hope this play produces that for our audience."

Alabama Rain is Directed by Leah Turley with Eduardo Galaviz as Assistant Director. Kaden Reynolds serves as Stage Manager while Michael Hoard and Autumn Stennett are Assistant Stage Managers. Sound Design is being handled by Madison Withrow.

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From This Author Richard Allen

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