Set Change and Community Theater

The plot of T’Gracie and Joe Reese’s Set Change involves Bay St. Lucy’s decision to stage, at a cost of enormous sums of Robinson estate money, a world class, televised, version of Hamlet.  The inspiration for the novel came, however, not from a  staging of Hamlet in London or New York, but from a performance of a play whose name T’Gracie and Joe have long  since forgotten, staged in that cultural mecca of the south,  Jena, Louisiana.

T’Gracie and Joe lived at the time in Lafayette, Louisiana, where she, hiding under the assumed name of ‘Pam,’ was working on her doctorate.

They were invited by friends of friends of friends to drive the thirty or so miles to Jena, which is also known for being the sight of one of Napoleon’s great victories and the birthplace of German romanticism.

Neither of these things mattered though, for this night was THEATER!

And of course it was great, packed house, beautifully directed play, inspired actors who never forgot a line nor missed a cue.

Afterwards the crowd gave a standing ovation.

Then there were sandwiches and iced tea.

And you got to meet not only the actors themselves, but their husbands and wives and children!

Try THAT on Broadway!

In short, it put us in mind of the greatness of community theater.  How remarkable that in every small town there is one heretofore inconspicuous man who is Stanley Kowalski.  How remarkable that the world’s all- time best version of South Pacific would have been done on Thursday night, May 14, in Batesville, Arkansas (T’Gracie’s home town), with the town’s ophthalmologist  singing Some Enchanted Evening better than Enzio Pinza could ever have done.

                And how remarkable that, in Set Change, when Bay St. Lucy veterinarian John Giusti asks the audience at the end of the play to sing with him (from Edelweiss, Sound of Music) the words ‘Bless my homeland forever—everyone does so.

And no one is thinking about Austria.

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