By Sam Elliott
Audience members at Oaklandon Civic Theatre’s upcoming production of “A Passion for Harmony” may recognize some of the characters on stage.
And that’s just as Indiana playwright James Trofatter intended as he adapted a series of books by Danville author Philip Gulley into a trio of plays.
“His characters are wonderful because you look at them and you say, ‘Oh my God I know that person,’” Trofatter said. “The characters are so great, people are just going to laugh because they’ll look and say, ‘Oh my God, my next-door neighbor talks like that.’ They’re not caricatures, they’re just characters. You know these people. You look at them and say, ‘That’s my aunt,’ or, ‘That’s my neighbor next door.’”
The show’s two-weekend run begins Feb. 26 at the Oaklandon Civic Theatre, inside Oaklandon Unitarian Universalist Church at 6450 Oaklandon Rd.
Gulley has written eight books — published in the early to middle 2000s — centered around the fictitious town of Harmony, Ind., which Trofatter says resembles and is a stand-in for Danville.
“I’ve taken his first four books and I’ve taken information out of them and sort of moved stuff around,” Trofatter said. “About 50 percent of the dialogue is his and 50 percent is mine. So I wrote three plays, which I call ‘A Year in Harmony.’ There’s a Christmas play, an Easter play and something called ‘Corn and Sausage in Harmony.’”
“A Passion for Harmony” takes place during the Easter season, with the somewhat eccentric residents of Harmony preparing for the festivities amid small-town drama.
The play had six scenes when Trofatter originally wrote it in 2005, but has since expanded to 21 short scenes. Bob Miles — a character portrayed by Geist resident Jeff Maess — wasn’t originally in the show, but since added has become an important role helping guide the audience through the play’s events.
“I enjoy the sense of humor. There’s just something about it that I like,” Maess said of the comedy. “I don’t really have any scenes on the stage, my office is off in front of the stage and I’m kind of what you might call the Greek chorus in some other shows. I’m either talking about what’s about to happen or relaying information about what has happened. That’s kind of fun. You sort of have to pay attention to what Bob’s saying because it might be about something that’s coming up.”
Miles owns and operates Harmony’s local newspaper, writing a weekly “Bobservation Post” as he watches the town’s residents pass by his office window.
“Sometimes he makes stuff up,” Trofatter said. “He’s kind of like the local gossip column. He’s the third generation of running this newspaper, he inherited it from his father and he hates it because he wanted to be a world correspondent.”
Other main characters added to the show since Trofatter first wrote it are husband and wife Wayne and Sally Fleming, who were always talked about but are now seen speaking for themselves as Trofatter added them for this production. The Flemings’ family drama is among the show’s major plot points, with Sally having run away and abandoned her husband and children at the beginning of the show for unknown reasons. She returns, but in the year she was gone Wayne has begun dating Deena Morrison, portrayed by Fishers’ Laura Kuhn.
The show’s main stage revolves around the happenings at Harmony’s Quaker meetinghouse.
“It’s the hub of activity,” Trofatter said. “The women’s club is called the Friendly Women’s Circle. They do a chicken noodle dinner every year, but this is a special year because it’s their 175th anniversary. They decide to make a quilt, and the quilt becomes a big player later on in the play.”
The Quaker church is led by pastor Sam Gardner and his congregation includes Dale Hinsaw — whose plans for reinvigorating the scripture ministry involve feeding Bible verses to chickens — and Jessie Peacock, a lottery winner portrayed by Geist resident Tracy Fiddle.
“The writing’s awesome. I love it. It’s fun, it’s light, you don’t have to be a weird character, you can kind of just be yourself,” Fiddle said. “I got to thinking, ‘Who is my character really? Who can I look to to get some inspiration?’ And I figured it out — it’s my mother. So I’ve been channeling my mother. It’s been a lot of fun … I grew up in a Baptist church and there are people like these characters in every church across the Midwest. Somebody will say one of their lines and I’ll think of somebody I grew up with.”
“A Passion for Harmony”
By: James Trofatter
Based on: the books by Philip Gulley
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 26-27 and March 4-5; 2 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 6
Where: Oaklandon Civic Theatre at Oaklandon Unitarian Universalist Church, 6450 Oaklandon Rd.
Tickets: $12 each
Reservations: OaklandonCivicTheatre.org, or 823-4761, ext. 4