HILL FIRE: Of Life and Lemons


20160920_175853_resizedFinding the good in a bad situation is a running theme in this year’s Hill Fire production, “Of Life and Lemons” set for Oct. 1,2, 6 and 8 at the Montgomery County Performing Arts Center.

“Of Life and Lemons” is a comedy/drama set in 1930 in a rural Mississippi town. There are multiple storylines, but one particular story centers around a mother and her children who come home to family after the break up of a marriage. Tragedy continues to follow them and leaves a young boy struggling to find the good in a bad situation. Other stories provide the comic relief for the play and include scenes with a neighborhood busybody and with a store owner who provides general goods with a little legal advice on the side.

“I love the drama being displayed in one of the stories,” said Elizabeth Eldridge, playwright and director for this year’s play. “Without giving anything away, there are some scenes that give us all chills every time we watch them. We are going somewhere we’ve never been before with one of the stories.  The actors are really going to bring it.”  

14469593_1109162415787278_8454024456159339163_nEldridge said the character of Bobby Ray is a composite character — which means he is a combination of more than one person.  This character is loosely based on B. B. King and Robert Johnson as children.

But the character of Uncle Fred serves a dual purpose.  Eldridge said Uncle Fred was an actual person who lived with the Childress family after the Civil War.

“He was a former slave who helped the family out when the Union soldiers came through by taking the family livestock into the swamp along with one of the Childress boys and stayed there for weeks until the soldiers moved out,” Eldridge said. “Fred and John became life long friends. Uncle Fred is also one of the men who introduces Bobby Ray to music. The real life man who did that was Archie Fair who taught B. B. King his first three chords.”

Eldridge said the character of Mama Sue owns an apartment house that was once the town’s hotel.

“She can be found on her front porch entertaining the local townsfolk who frequently drop by to chitchat,” Eldridge said. “Even though this year’s stories all originated in Montgomery County, we like to think they are universal and that those who live outside our county lines will be able to see some of their hometown in the stories as well.”

“The script is one of the finest we have had,” said Paula McCaulla, executive director for the Montgomery County Arts Council. “Elizabeth has done a fantastic job on this one.”

14445942_1109162452453941_6538776240835477985_nWhen B. B. King passed away, Eldridge purchased his autobiography and some other books about his life, intending to use him as a character in a future show.

“I decided not to strictly go with a story about B. B. King, but rather a character who is a combination of more than one blues legend,” Eldridge said. “So I combined some stories from B. B. King and Robert Johnson and developed a new character.”

She already had the story about John Middleton Childress. He was her husband’s great-grandfather and her mother-in-law had mentioned him on more than one occasion.

“The story finally fit with the time period I wanted to use,” Eldridge said. “I took characteristics from my own relationship with my husband and incorporated them in John and Nancy’s relationship, making them a fun-loving couple who work well together.”

Eldridge said she made up the front porch scenes. But when she was researching other storylines, she mentioned the porch scenes to a few people and was told there was actually a lady who rented apartments out to people and her front porch was the gathering place for the townsfolk.

“So I renamed the lady Mama Sue who in reality was Sue Hood Keith,” Eldridge said.

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While they are always looking to add new people to the “Hill Fire family,” Eldridge said she loves the cast members who return season after season.

“I know what they are capable of and I know I can count on them to give me the performance I’m expecting,” Eldridge said.

She also loves welcoming new cast members, and there are several new faces on the stage this season, including: Sara Evans, James Tribble, Arnold Dyre, Amia Weathersby, Cynthia Hemphill, Kimberly Wilkerson, and Grant Wilson.

Veteran Hill Fire actors in the upcoming play are Ken Rosamond, Tonya Hopkins, Jackie Mathews, Jeremy Saffold, Aidan Kilburn, Gracie Kilburn, Aidan Eldridge, Emma Marshall, Cadi-Laine Hopkins, Carleigh Hopkins, Charlie Brown, Ted MacIntosh, Freda MacIntosh, and Stevie Myers.  14484749_1109162262453960_2236857217432045339_n

 

“With so many being new, this season has been a little challenging because I didn’t know what to expect and neither did they,” Eldridge said. “But they are all coming along very well.  They are going to be great.”

Eldridge said getting this cast together has been a struggle for various reasons.

“There is always something that happens during the course of putting a show together that makes us think that there is just no way that it will ever come together,” Eldridge said. “But after doing this for 14 years, I have learned that God takes care of us.  No matter how the devil tries to tear us down, he is never successful.  We circle and we pray. That tends to take care of everything.”

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Cast members always gather in a circle to pray before each rehearsal and show. (Photo by Gwen Sisson)

Hill Fire is sponsored in part by the Mississippi Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Advance tickets can be purchased for $20 by calling (662) 310-0199. Student tickets are $15 and there are special rates for members of the Montgomery County Arts Council. For more information about this season’s play or to buy tickets, go to http://www.hillfire.org or email at montgomerycountyartscouncil@gmail.com.

 

 

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