31 Days of Arkansas Rep: Charles Portis’ DELRAY’S NEW MOON in 1996

When you’ve written one of the great American novels of the second half of the 20th Century and seen it turned into an Oscar winning movie, what do you do next?  You continue writing.

And if you are Charles Portis, you decide in the 1990s to try your hand at a play.  So in 1996, the Arkansas Rep offered a staged reading of Portis’ play Delray’s New Moon. 

Directed by Rep Artistic Director Cliff Baker, it was set in a honky tonk hotel halfway between Little Rock and Texarkana. Most of the people there are senior citizens awaiting their next location whether it be a nursing home or a relative’s house.

The cast featured Scott Edmonds played a father being shuffled each month between his daughters played by Judy Trice and Natalie Canerday.  Others in the cast included Danielle Rosenthal, Jean Lind, John Stiritz, Michael Davis, Graham Gordy, Stacy Breeding, Angel Bailey, Rhonda Atwood and Tom Kagy.

The production ran from April 18 to 28.  The normally reclusive Portis participated in talkback sessions following performances.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1982’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Scott Edmonds as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens – from Developing Character at the Arkansas Rep 1983-1984 by Andrew Kilgore. Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection. Gift of Doyne and Margaret Dodd.There were plenty of Christmas carols during the 1982 Arkansas Rep production of A Christmas Carol. This was the first time, in the Rep’s seven Decembers of existence, that a holiday-themed show had been presented in December.

The production was directed by the Rep’s Artistic Associate Montgomery Kuklenski (who is now an entertainment executive in Los Angeles).  After Cliff Fannin Baker decided to produce a stage version of the Charles Dickens chestnut, Kuklenski read over a dozen versions before selecting one by Tom Markus.

Instead of taking place on the Rep’s stage, the production was mounted in the university theatre on the UALR campus.  (With a cast of nearly 40 actors and many special effects, it would have been difficult to produce this at the Rep’s home adjacent to MacArthur Park.)

Scott Edmonds played the title character with other parts being played by Dallas Miles, Jonathan Michaelson, Rebeccas Wilenski, Charles Hatchock, Larry Edwards, Peter White, Jay Kinney, Tommy Cherepski, Ted Eades, and Ronald J. Aulgur.

One of the reasons that the Markus version was selected was that it incorporated numerous Christmas carols into the script both as part of the action and as transitions between scenes. Sharon Douglas served as pianist and music director for the production.

The production ran from December 9 through 18 of 1982.

Several of the actors were captured in Mark Hughes’s costumes by Andrew Kilgore as part of his multi-season Developing Character black and white photo portrait series.  The Arkansas Arts Center has over twenty of these photos in its permanent collection.

The Rep also has many of these photos. As part of 2nd Friday Art Night, the Rep is displaying some of these photos in the lobby of the current building.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: The 1986 production of THE FOREIGNER

Blasny Blasny.  Larry Shue’s 1984 farce THE FOREIGNER made its first of four appearances on the Arkansas Rep stage in January 1986.

Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured Terry Sneed as the title character, a mild-mannered man who pretends to be a non-English speaking foreigner to avoid interactions with locals at a small-town hunting resort.

Others in the cast were Steve Wilkerson, Mark Johnson, Ron Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, Natalie Canderday and Jean Lind.

The production ran from January 16 through February 9 of 1986. It was so popular that it sold out its run. Standing room only ticket holders filled all available spaces.  Gov. Bill Clinton called for tickets and could not be accommodated.

It has subsequently been mounted at the Rep three times more: during the 1987/88, 1995/96 and 2008/09 seasons. It is the only play to have been staged that many times in the Rep’s history.

The 1988 staging featured Wilkerson, Sneed, and Johnson reprising their roles.



31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985 World Premiere of THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre set the American regional theatre world abuzz with its world premiere of a musical version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Director Cliff Fannin Baker received many telephone calls from his colleagues who were surprised that the Brecht estate had given its authorization for a musicalization to a small professional theatre in Little Rock.

The songs were written by Arkansas native Michael Rice using as a libretto the Eric Bentley translation of the original Brecht work. Rice also served as music director, leading a seven member orchestra as it played the nineteen songs he wrote.

As director, Baker used many Brechtian techniques to stay true to the story. These included music, neon signs, and non-traditional costuming for some of the characters.  Speaking of costumes, Little Rock fashion designer Connie Fails designed the clothing for the production.

Others on the creative team included Michael R. Smith (a set that was described as “dazzling, trashily opulent”) and Kathy Gray.

The title character was played by Vivian Morrison (now Vivian Norman). Other leading roles were played by Mark Johnson, Terry Sneed, Dianne Tack, and Mychael McMillan (in drag).  Playing a trio of gods were Ronald J. Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, and Candyce Hinkle. Others in the cast included Jean Lind, Ruth Shepherd, Kathryn Pryor, Judy Trice, Carol Ann Connor (now McAdams), Ginny Pace, and Jeff Bailey.

The production took place at the Arkansas Arts Center Theatre instead of the Rep’s facility on 11th Street.  With a cast of twenty and extensive set changes, the production needed more space than the Rep’s home could accommodate.

The Good Woman of Setzuan opened on June 13 and ran through June 22.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: KENNEDY’S CHILDREN in 1977

Since October 3, 2018, marks the 55th anniversary of JFK speaking in Little Rock, it seems an appropriate day to feature the 1977 Arkansas Rep production of Robert Patrick’s KENNEDY’S CHILDREN.

The play takes place in a NYC bar on Valentine’s Day 1974 as its denizens speak in intertwining monologues about the 1960s and coping with the disillusions they feel from that earlier decade.  The title comes from the sense that the 1960s after November 1963 were a reaction to the loss of JFK and his idealism.

One of the characters, who was played by Jean Lind at Arkansas Rep, is obsessed with the Kennedy Administration. Others in the cast were Jean Hendrickson, Phyllis Blumenfeld, Scott Edmonds and Barry Carter.  Guy Couch played the important, but non-speaking, role of the bartender who plies the quintet with drinks throughout the play.

In the original production, there is a jukebox which plays musical interludes as transitions. In a nod to director Cliff Fannin Baker’s ingenuity, that role was played by Frank Gordon on jazz clarinet. It actually added a sense of humanity and added soulfulness to the production.

The bar in which the action took place was designed and lit by Byl Harriell.  The physical presence was described by Bill Lewis in the Arkansas Gazette review as a “masterful sleezy bar.”

The production ran from December 1 through 17 in 1977. Tickets were $5.00 a person. (This is the equivalent of $20.80 today.)

31 Day of Arkansas Rep: THE RUNNER STUMBLES in 1979

Pat Brown, director of THE RUNNER STUMBLES

While he directed most shows at the Rep during the early years, Cliff Fannin Baker would bring in guest directors from time to time. One of these was Pat Brown who helmed the February 1979 production of The Runner Stumbles.

A co-founder of Houston’s Alley Theatre, Brown also had connections to Little Rock; she was a niece of Little Rock businesswoman Mae Horn (who dressed ALL the best-dressed men.)

Though Brown had worked all over the US, this was the first time she had directed The Runner Stumbles. This Milan Stitt play had run for 396 performances on Broadway from 1976 to 1978. The Arkansas Rep was one of the first regional theatres to produce the play.  (Side note: the original Broadway production was directed by Austin Pendleton who would later direct A Loss of Roses at Arkansas Rep.)

In his Arkansas Gazette review, Bill Lewis called the production “one of the strongest yet” for the Rep.  He described it as a “compelling, somber drama” that was “impeccably directed and acted with highest octane virtuosity.”  Lewis was not one to mince words, so when he gave praise it was deserved.

The cast for A Runner Stumbles included Craig Fuller, Jean Hendrickson, Scott Edmonds, Jean Lind, Ron Aulgur, Ken Klingenmeier, Jeannine Le May, Robert Boles, and Phyllis Blumenfeld. The show was designed by Byl Harriell.  Guy Couch assisted with set decoration and props.

The production ran from February 1 to 18 of 1979.