By Lacy Hilliard
The latest production to hit the stage at Heritage Hall is A Man Called Peter. Originally a biography written by Catherine Marshall, the wife of the man for which the story is named; A Man Called Peter was also adapted into a 1955 Oscar-nominated screenplay starring Richard Todd and Jean Peters. The Heritage Hall adaptation, directed by Michael Eggers, dramatizes the lives of the Marshalls during perhaps their most difficult trials.
Born May 27, 1902, Peter Marshall was originally from North Lanarkshire, Scotland. It is said that he felt a strong calling from God at a very young age and that he always knew his purpose was to help others by bringing them closer to God. After gaining popularity in the U.S., Marshall was asked to fill the position of pastor at the elite New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia and also served two terms as chaplain for the U.S. Senate. Though Peter Marshall was noteworthy in his time, those that recount his memory boast about his methods rather than his celebrity. Marshall was a strong advocate of family values and never allowed the lure of corruption or power to blur his focus.
Drawing from real life experience, youth pastor Ray Branch stars as Peter Marshall in the Heritage Hall adaptation of A Man Called Peter. Branch is the current President of the Johnson County Community Theater organization and has appeared in several productions including Southern Hospitality, The Homecoming, Maggie Flynn, Oklahoma, Hallelujah Girls, and A Country Christmas Carol. Branch shines as he brings to life the stoic but strong demeanor of the dedicated Peter Marshall. Though the majority of the play deals with lifes trials, Branch is careful not to ignore the more eccentric and fun-loving traits that Marshall possessed; such as his love of chiming clocks and overall chaotic atmospheres. Branch doesnt miss a beat as the Marshalls revolving front door presents visitors aplenty, each with their own set of problems. He is quick to offer solutions and wisdom and even when the advice isnt well-received, he stands his ground. He uses the same methods when counseling his family and the root of the message is always the same; go to God. The supporting cast is in awe as Branch performs and their looks of admiration likely mirror those of the real Peter Marshalls followers.
Catherine Marshall is embodied by the beautiful Amber Bauguess. Bauguess has also appeared in several Heritage Hall productions including The Wizard of Oz, Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles, and River Rising. The patience, understanding, and compassion exuded by Catherine Marshall are characterized flawlessly by Bauguess. The pride Catherine Marshall feels for her husband is apparent in Bauguess performance. Her posture and gait are reminiscent of our modern portrait of 1940s women.
Deklan Thomas may only be nine years old, but there is nothing immature about his portrayal of Peter John Marshall. Peter John is the only child of Peter and Catherine Marshall. Starring as the only child actor in this production, Thomas seems unhindered by his adult co-stars. His humorous quips and youthful smile help to lighten the context of the play. Deklan aspires to be an author, a movie director, a playwright, and an actor and if his performance in this production is any indication of his future, you may want to keep your eye on him.
Sisters Judith and Jesse Bickel are acted by Judy Walsh and Kathleen Henderson. Both Walsh and Henderson have appeared in previous Heritage Hall productions. The duo possess such amazing chemistry, one might find herself searching through the program to determine whether or not they really are sisters. The meddlesome Judith Bickel with her pomp and circumstance is always shushing her meek sister, Jesse. As the characters evolve, the dynamic between Walsh and Henderson is noticeably altered and you find yourself mesmerized as they command the stage.
Each actor brings something diverse to the stage and the talent showcased in the supporting roles is astounding. Timeless beauty Deidre Burgess stole many a scene with her role as Susan Grant. Grants counterpart, George Yost (Logan Dunn), exudes kindness and compassion as he navigates loves trials. Carol McCroskey ropes the audience in with her emotional portrayal of Marian Grant and as real tears flow from her eyes, the audience can truly feel the inner struggles of this character. Actor/director Michael Eggers successfully plays the role of Marians emasculated husband, Steven Grant. Logan Vincent tugs at the heartstrings as he plays Joe Keatingan underprivileged boy with a heart of gold. The distinguished Dean Whitworth commands authority with his role as Senator James Knox Polk. Kathy Terrill brings the comedy with her part as the sassy housekeeper, Hulda. Allan Talbot (Derek Dickson), nephew of the Bickel sisters, showcases the trials of an impassioned young man trying to find himself. Hannah Arnett and Kristen Branch successfully perform the youthful, bubbly, and idealistic roles of Nancy Everetts and Barbara Logan.
A Man Called Peter leaves the audience with a positive message of love, tolerance, patience, and standing up for what you believe inwhether or not its popular. The passion director/actor Michael Eggers feels for this story is apparent in the detail-oriented set, wardrobe, and cast. . A Man Called Peter invites its audience to step back to a simpler time and if you didnt know any better, you might expect to leave the theater in a Buick Roadmaster and head down to the soda shop.
If youre interested in seeing A Man Called Peter you are welcomed to do so during its final weekend (April 13-14). You may contact the Heritage Hall box office (727-7444) for show times and ticket availability.
By Lacy Hilliard