Crump’s script tradition for Natchez

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Owen Crump was a successful script writer working in California when the call came from his sister in Shreveport, La. The sister was coming to the Natchez Pilgrimage and invited Crump to come along. He did.

For three days he toured Natchez houses and observed the colorful people who greeted him on the broad galleries and in the ornate parlors. He was impressed.

Crump was so impressed that he returned to California and wrote a play about what he had seen, a light comedy that pokes gentle fun at Natchez, its traditions, its aristocracy and &045; perhaps best of all &045; its tourists. He named the play &uot;Southern Exposure,&uot; and, while it has not found a place among the annals of the great American plays, it has become both a tradition and a love for Natchez, the town that inspired it.

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The show first was produced at the Margo Jones Theater in the Round in Dallas. It ran for nine weeks and was a big success there. Then it opened at the Biltmore Theatre in New York City in August 1950 and ran just for a few weeks, too provincial for the sophisticated audiences of the big city, most critics said.

In 1951, the Natchez Little Theatre decided to perform &uot;Southern Exposure&uot; as a regular season offering and then in 1963 began to work toward establishing it as a regular offering during Spring Pilgrimage each year.

The play takes place at Mayweather Hall, a typical antebellum house, where Penelope Mayweather, mistress of the house, holds on to all she has left &045; pride and heritage. Her maid, Australia, lives with her and, with her frank and funny words, provides insight into the activities in the house as tourists come and go.

Jonathan Douglas, a writer and a Northerner, comes to see the house and rents a room. He falls in love with Carol, Miss Mayweather’s young cousin. They secretly marry. Avery and Emmeline Randall, Carol’s parents, find out about the marriage and are horror-struck. From there, the entanglements and disentanglements continue to a delightful conclusion.

Natchez Little Theatre actors will perform &uot;Southern Exposure&uot; at 8 a.m. every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the playhouse on Linton Avenue. Admission is $12 per person. Ticket information is available at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and at the playhouse, 442-2233.