Faith and Family: Jefferson Street UMC youth present annual dinner theater

Published 11:26 pm Friday, April 20, 2018

By Morgan Mizell

NATCHEZ — The Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and its youth group will present “The Curious Savage” as the church’s annual dinner theater production, opening 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at the church’s Family Life Center, 511 Jefferson St., Natchez.

Tickets are $17, $12 for youth and $6 for children under 10 years old. The cost includes live entertainment from local talent and a hearty pork loin dinner with sweet green beans, rice medley with gravy, a roll and dessert.

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The church has hosted dinner theater productions annually for 33 years.

“The Curious Savage” is the story of an elderly widow named Mrs. Savage, whose husband left her $10 million.

She intends to give the entire fortune away to people who wish to pursue their “foolish dreams,” but her stepchildren strongly object.

To prevent her from doing away with their family’s wealth and ruining their legacy, they have her committed to a residential program called The Cloisters, and it is among the gentle residents there that she finds her true family.

“The Curious Savage” is a warm comedy that compares the kindness and loyalty of psychiatric patients with the greed and hostility of so-called “normal people.”

The play originally opened in New York on Broadway in 1950 and played 31 performances with star Lillian Gish in the lead role.

The Rev. Bill Barksdale Jr., senior pastor, and John Hudson, youth coordinator, are co-directing this year’s production.

The church has presented a drama each year for more than 40 years, and this will be the 34th dinner theater.

“A dinner theater, in many ways, is a lost art in today’s world of instant gratification and scrolling newsfeeds,” Barksdale said. “Our audience is treated to an evening with their family, away from technology, complete with a meal and a inspirational theatrical performance.”

The dinner theaters are not presented simply to entertain the audience, but also to give audience members something to think about, and the dinner theater is considered one of the church’s many ministries.

Both co-directors said they have at times found themselves reading lines for a missing cast member or feeding a line here and there to assist with the flow of rehearsals.

“Standing on stage under the lights and relying on your memory to perform your part can be very intimidating,” Barksdale said.  “The process of learning the character roles, memorizing lines, and performing the play enhances our youth in many ways, especially by giving them confidence.”

Veteran actress, Anna Rodriguez, plays the lead role of the production, Mrs. Savage.

“I can identify with my character in some ways,” Rodriguez said. “She believes in the fools of good heart, and she is not so stuck on people who are set in their ways, and her character has inspired me to live my life more like that.”

Most of the other patients are portrayed by youth who have varying degrees of stage experience.

Both Colby Passman and Carolyne Heatherly have performed in numerous productions at Jefferson Street, but they got their feet wet at Natchez Little Theatre.

Two members of the cast are joining the other youth from outside of the youth group. Damien Washington and Damira McGruder were cast in roles that were opposite their normal demeanors. Washington plays one of the Savage children, “Titus,” who is a Senator and is interested in his portion of his mother’s money.

McGruder plays a fellow patient of Mrs. Savage who does not talk.

“Anyone who knows me knows I like to talk,” McGruder said. “This is my first time in a play, but I am not nervous, because I have been given speeches in front of large audiences.”

Other cast members include Mary Evans Kelley, Clayton Devening, Seth Blattner, Mary Redhead, Vivian Tran and Luke Scholfield.

All of the cast members say they are excited about the show and have found they, in some way, understand and relate to their characters.

Both Barksdale and Hudson said they believe the church will continue to host the dinner theaters as long as the community supports it.

Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket can contact a member of the youth group or call the church at 601-442-3795.