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Life around the card table: SCT debuts ‘Octette’ revival

September 9, 2012

The cast of “The Octette Bridge Club” readies for another game of cards during rehearsals. The play premieres 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Playhouse on Main. Pictured are (left row, front to back) Madeline Golden, Brenda Mayo, Lorraine Hughes and Allyn Flemmons; (right row, front to back) Marianne Ulmer, Cindy Ruff, Terry McDowell and Tracey Millsaps. (Photo by Matt Crane, SDN)

Starkville Community Theater is dealing out its newest season with the premiere of “The Octette Bridge Club” 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Playhouse on Main.

Directed by Pattye Archer, the play focuses on family dynamics between eight sisters as they navigate through life and card games from 1934 to 1944.

Archer said the production, which made its first SCT debut in 1987, was picked as the theater’s revival after careful consideration.

“There have been several shows we’ve done more than once,” she said.

“But this is the first time we made a conscious effort to bring back a show we had done in our early history.”

Monroe Dewberry directed the first staging of the play over 25 years ago with a cast that included Alice Carol Caldwell, Barbara Bouchillon, Catherine Conroy, Frances Heller, Terry McDowell, Dixie Camp, Marsha Williams, Madeline Golden and John Wells.

Archer said her familiarity with the show and its cast drives her and current cast members to deliver the best performance possible.

“I’m very excited because I knew a number of the actresses who were in the first show and I’m excited to follow in Monroe’s footsteps,” she said. “I hope we can do the first production justice.”

The dynamics of sisterhood and card playing is an off-stage reality for Archer, who said she has enjoyed the rehearsal process with the women she directs.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with some actresses,” she said. “Anytime you get to deal with a show about family dynamics, it’s fun and a challenge.”

Archer said the show, which sees a 10-year time jump from the first to second acts, addresses the culture and historical happenings of the 1930s and 1940s.

“It’s been challenging having never done a show set in the 1930s because the people spoke and acted ... very different,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of research into the photos, movies and music of the time.”

The current cast of “The Octette Bridge Club” features Allyn Flemmons, Lorraine Huges, Brenda Mayo, Cindy Ruff, Tracey Millsaps, Marianne Ulmer and, although in different roles, returning cast members Madeline Golden and Terry McDowell who starred in the 1987 production.

Golden, who played Betsy in the show’s original run, said she has enjoyed working with the newest cast and has fond memories of the production 25 years ago.

“It all feels very familiar — sometimes I can still hear Frances Heller saying her lines,” she said. “The show is great because it’s all about family, and everyone can relate to family.”

McDowell plays the club’s eldest member, Martha, and said she has enjoyed portraying a character she doesn’t often visit on stage.

“I usually play the comedic types roles, so it’s nice to play one that’s more dramatic,” she said. “It’s been great so far, but I was nervous about playing Martha because A.C. did it so well in the original show.”

When the theatre took the play to the annual Mississippi Theatre Association competition in 1987, the judges announced an eight-way tie for best supporting actress to honor the women’s powerful performance.

Flemmons, who plays youngest sister Betsy, makes her SCT debut with “The Octette Bridge Club.” She said the process has been a fantastic opportunity to gain friendships and return the stage while working on a character with powerful on-stage moments.

“Playing Betsy has been a stretch and the emotional scenes have been taxing, but it’s been so nice,” she said. “This opportunity has been so encouraging because I’ve been out of the theater loop for a while and all of these ladies have been so wonderful and patient with me.”

“The Octette Bridge Club” premieres at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Playhouse on Main.

For more information, visit http://www.sct-online.org or call the box office at 662-323-6855.

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