By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
MIDDLETOWN -- This year's Christmas production at Wayside Theatre in Middletown was written as a gift to the Shenandoah Valley.
"Glory Bea! A Shenandoah Christmas Story," by Wayside regular Rich Follett and former local actor Larry Dalke, who now lives in Chicago, makes its premier this holiday season, and speaks of traditions families in the valley will know by heart.
"It's a statement about where we live," said director Warner Crocker. "It's about the Shenandoah Valley and where we live."
Follett and Dalke had talked of writing a play for years but never got around to it until recently, Follett said.
"I just called him on his bluff, actually," he said. "I said let's do this. Let's write this."
The idea for the play has evolved from its original plot line, Follett said, but it wasn't until he and Dalke set the play in the northern valley that their writing really took life.
"This is what seemed real to us," he said. "Sort of like a snowball rolling downhill, it developed steam."
The play, which takes place in 1933, tells the story of a little girl, Glorianna Beatrice "Glory Bea" Thorne, and her mother, Annie, who must fend for themselves after Glory Bea's father, John, accepts long-term work building the brand new Skyline Drive.
They expect him home in time for Christmas, but then a blizzard threatens not only his homecoming but also their personal welfare when the mother and daughter get caught in the storm while delivering the traditional Christmas tree to their local church.
The story is fictional, Follett said, but the events -- the building of Skyline Drive, which began that year, and the Christmas blizzard -- are rooted in the valley's history.
The play includes family names from the valley and real places that longtime residents will recognize, as well as the age old dispute over whether to purchase a pine or a cedar tree.
"And that's the hills and the valley," Follett said, residents from the hills choosing pine trees, and those in the valley choosing cedar. "So that's woven into the show."
Follett said many of the images in the play came from his own experiences living in the area, dating back to the night he moved here in 1987, which inspired a song he wrote and has included in the play.
"I fell in love with the valley, and I bought a house," -- that very weekend, he said. "And it was my first winter here."
He slept on his couch that night, hugging his guitar to his chest to have a piece of home with him, he explained. When he awoke the power had gone out, and the house was freezing, but he saw out the window a snow-covered cedar tree decorated with what looked like 30 or 40 cardinals.
"It looked like a Christmas card," he said. "I felt like the valley had welcomed me." On the spot he wrote the song "Shenandoah Christmas," which he since has produced on an album and which plays on local radio stations at Christmastime.
"So that was the seminal event for this show actually some 20 years ago," Follett said.
The song itself is in the play "Glory Bea," but its images also present themselves:
"When this life is over and my journey is done / I'll come back to the river and together we'll run. / Let my spirit be carried on the wings of a dove. / I'll spend Shenandoah Christmas in the home I love."
"They're very valley specific," Follett said. "They're woven throughout the story, they're like bread crumbs on the trail."
Follett and Dalke wrote all of the music in the play, and included another of Follett's songs from years ago, "Mountain Lullaby."
Wayside has produced local plays written by the theater's music director, Steve Przybylski, but Crocker said "Glory Bea" is its first production written by anyone else from the cast or crew.
"This is a really wonderful opportunity for Wayside, he said, "because it's not often that we get to do original work, maybe once in two years."
It's especially meaningful for him and the cast to perform a play written by two actors who already have contributed to so many shows at Wayside, he said.
As is traditional for Wayside's holiday productions, the play is double cast to help the theater offer performances from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Eve.
Przybylski and Robbie Limon share the role of Mike. Thomasin Savaiano and Katherine Yacko play Annie. Matthew Baldoni and Forrest Sassaman play John. Andrew Crowe and Jason Labrador play Zeke. Abby Buchholz and Audrey Nakagawa play Glory Bea.
Amanda Willis and Lydia Hisey play Lydia Funkhouser. Theresa McGuirk and Dana Colagiovanni play Miss Sarah. Jessica Shostek and Natalie Youngblood play Rebecca Estep.
Additional roles are Gabe, played by Jody Lee, and the Three Camel Boys, played by Patrick Bauserman, Thomas Bauserman, Forrest Limon, Dan Kurzenknabe, Jake Adams and Jordan Armel.
Besides reminding valley residents of their storied past, Crocker believes that locals who come see the play will relate to the idea of wanting to celebrate the holidays even when times are tough.
"That's something that people can identify with," he said. "I think all of us would like to think that what we've been going through has an end."
"We've all gotten through this ... and at the core of this piece is a little girl, Glory Bea."
Follett said he's wanted to live in Virginia ever since he was 9 years old and visited with his family from Long Island, N.Y.
"I couldn't wait to get here," he said.
Now a Strasburg resident, Follett said "Glory Bea" is a gift back to the valley.
He hopes to give the audience "a sense of gratitude and joy for the beauty of this life, of this valley and of this life."
"It's been a real gift of love."