MC Communication Performers Embrace Value of Friendship in ‘Anne of Green Gables’ Production
Phyllis Seawright had thought of “Anne of Green Gables” as a popular children’s book series until she heard a graduate presentation focusing on the theology inherent in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s work by Taylor Hathorn, assistant director of strategic planning support at Mississippi College.
Written for all ages, the coming-of-age story covers the adventures of an orphan mistakenly sent to a pair of middle-aged siblings who intended to adopt a boy to help them tend their farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Seawright, assistant professor of theater in the Department of Communication, recognized its potential as a stage production at Mississippi College.
“Anne has barely gotten to know who God is from her experience in the orphanage,” Seawright said. “She has a respect for who God is, but she doesn’t really know how to pray. She prays a prayer that the preachers would use and she’s heard the Lord’s Prayer, but she’s never memorized it.
“But what she brings to the people who wind up adopting her is a joy in nature and how God is actually revealed through His creation. She’s had to imagine joyful things in order to cope with the tough living conditions that she has had, and now she is embracing and reveling in life on Prince Edward Island.”
Adapted for the stage by Peter deLaurier and produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc., “Anne of Green Gables” will be performed by the MC Department of Communication and MC Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, in the Entergy Theater at the Samuel Gore Arts Complex on MC’s East Campus in Clinton.
Tickets cost $8 each for the group rate, $10 each for students, and $15 for general admission, and may be purchased at the door. An “Afternoon Tea at Green Gables,” featuring tea party fare and raspberry cordial with cast members prior to the Saturday matinee, is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the GAC. Tickets for the tea cost $10 each.
Seawright said “Anne of Green Gables” will be unlike any other production performed at MC.
“The play takes place in the 1880s on an island just north of Nova Scotia and just east of New Brunswick,” she said. “We are trying to recreate the town of Avonlea, which is based on one of the northern coastal towns on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
“We’re trying to recreate the costumes and the hairstyles as much as possible. We have some set pieces that are approaching 100 years old, and we have other pieces that will require the audience to use its imagination.”
Helping Seawright with the production is Emma Ellard, a student director with extensive stage experience: she played Mary Bailey in the department’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Mary Debenham in “Murder on the Orient Express.”
“I grew up on stories like ‘Anne of Green Gables,’” Ellard said. “I remember watching the movies from the ‘80s and being charmed by the world of Avonlea and by Anne’s character and spirit. When I found out that we would be doing the play, I was all over it.
“I’ve wanted to take a leadership role in the MC Theater program for some time. Between the material we’re doing and the influx of new cast members, this felt like the perfect time for me to step up.”
Her job is to make sure all of the production’s elements – from sets, costumes, and actors to crew, lights, and sound – are working harmoniously.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces involved in a show like ‘Anne,’ but it’s fun,” she said. “Dr. Seawright has been kind enough to give me the opportunity to do a lot of artistic directing, so I’ve been able to help shape the look and feel of the show. I feel like it’s my canvas.
“I believe this is one of those rare stories that transcends the time in which it was written. Anne’s fierceness and humor, her relentless optimism and faith, have resonated with our 21st century cast and crew. I am remarkably proud of the product our incredible cast and crew have created, and I’m proud of the talented, hard-working, kind-hearted people that have made it happen.”
Critical to the play’s success is the performance of the titular character. Seawright hosted auditions two weeks before Christmas, and a pair of contenders emerged for the role of Anne.
“Of course, we were hoping for a natural readhead, and you wouldn’t believe how many red-headed girls showed up for auditions,” she said with a laugh. “Elizabeth Kessel was new to campus last semester and we didn’t really know her, but she was amazing, and she has naturally curly red hair. Emma and I said, ‘That’s Anne.’
“The next day, Frannie Dean showed up. She happens to have black hair, but her interpretation of the character blew us away. She had a lightness about her and an enthusiasm that meshed with the character of Anne. So we cast Frannie as Anne and, because Elizabeth has a very mature and grounded quality about her, we cast her as Marilla Cuthbert, the character who winds up raising her.”
Although the play marks Dean’s first stage performance at MC, having grown doing a lot of theater, the freshman pre-nursing major from Flora isn’t intimidated in the least.
“I grew up watching ‘Anne of Green Gables’ movies and loved them,” Dean said. “I was excited about playing Anne because her vibrance and her take on life is contagious. Her story is so powerful because she is able to overcome her hardships through her childlike wonder.
“The cast is fantastic and I’m excited to tell this story that is beloved by so many.”
Although a period piece, the production is easily relatable to today’s audiences, Dean said.
“I would love the audience to be inspired by Anne’s determination,” she said. “The way that she is able to take the negative parts of her life and make them beautiful and useful has made an impact on me personally, and I hope that is translated to the audience.
“’Anne of Green Gables’ is still very applicable to a modern audience because it speaks to the fact that love, God, and nature can heal a lot of wounds. Anne found purpose and flourished when she found the people and places that she loved.”
While Anne provides the focal point to the story, the production includes an ensemble cast that will help give clarity and context to her tragedies and triumphs.
“Prince Edward Island is not very big, and people in rural communities in the 1880s had to rely on each other to survive,” Seawright said. “Everyone has their personal quirks, but they’ve known each other for so long that they get along.”
The production also marks Kesel’s MC stage debut, although she grew up performing in community musical theatre. She is excited about taking on the role of Marilla.
“Marilla’s character evolves throughout the course of the play,” the sophomore psychology major from Brooksville, Florida, said. “She is very hard and unemotional during the first act and gradually becomes warmer. Trying to portray her slow softening with consistency is difficult. It gives me an opportunity to grow as an actor and better understand the development of personality in later adulthood.
“Anne’s is a story about growth and change and family. Modern audiences can relate to family dynamics and the power of love and redemption.”
Along with Dean and Kessel, the “Anne of Green Gables” cast includes Matthew Eschete as Matthew, Lilly Pillow as Diana, Micah Shepherd as Gilbert, Tory Lamar as Jane, Christen Pittman as Mrs. Lynde, Anna Baldwin as Ruby, Arlie Brown as Mrs. Barry and as Mrs. Spencer, Rachel McRae as Josie, Waverly Renick as Hymn Singer, Anna Claire Cochran as Miss Stacy, and Dr. Robert Burgess as Dean Harcum.
Renick’s sister, Darcy, an accomplished violinist, will provide music throughout the show, along with Brown.
“Darcy has been working on music used in the original movies, and she’s going to play the hymns during a funeral scene,” Seawright said. “Arlie plays violin, but she’s also in the cast as two different characters, so we’re working out when they could perform a duet during the play.”
Other crew members include Kathleen Perkins, stage manager; Amelia Hurt and Katie Ann Foster, lead designers, Waverly Renick, understudy, and Anna Wilson, Jadyn Davis, Caroline Becker, Larkin Dorris, Darra Powell, Ella MacGregor, and Zavien Wells, crew.
Seawright said “Anne of Green Gables” reveals that no matter the time or circumstance, people the world over are truly the same.
“I would like the audience to feel like they’ve been to a real place,” she said. “A thinking, feeling person realizes that God is good, God give us good things, and God creates beauty in nature all around us. I want the audience to see that no matter where you live, God made us to love each other and to share life together.”
To reserve tickets for any of the performances, call 601.925.3453 or email Seawright at email@example.com.