The other night at the theater (no kidding) I happened to be sitting by a woman who, before the curtain went up, was telling a story about a mouse, an English mouse.
The teller of the story, Gail Long, went along on a Columbus Arts Council sponsored trip to London and Downton Abbey in April. After the four-day tour in London, Long and Beverly Smitherman, both of Starkville, hired a car (as one would say in Britain) and set out on a self-directed tour of the English countryside.
The women visited the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bath, Lewes, Brighton, Stonehenge and finally, Hastings. There they stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in an ancient stone house. Out one window of their third-floor accommodation, says Long, they could see the cliffs of Dover and from another, “had there been no clouds,” France.
“Magical” was the word Long used to describe the trip. After Hastings, the two women drove to Heathrow where they caught their flight home. Long took with her on the plane one carry-on bag containing breakables and dirty clothes and checked her other luggage.
Once back in Starkville a couple of days, Long got around to unpacking her carry-on. She unzipped the bag and out hopped a mouse, an English mouse, presumably. After a quick assessment of its new circumstances, the stowaway dashed for cover.
Afraid the mouse might be carrying fleas “or something,” Long set a trap and baited it with cheese. First night the mouse made off with the cheese — for the previous three days it had subsisted on and made a nest using the contents of Long’s carry-on, specifically, her bras. The second night Long upped the ante with a piece of bacon.
“The bacon got him,” Long said. “We took pictures and disposed of him,” she said.
As the mouse story ended, the play, “Almost Maine,” began. The Starkville Community Theatre production was a delight, one of those events you wished you could share with friends and family. The cast was utterly convincing, and director Gabe Smith’s version of this quirky, probing and often moving exploration of human relationships both challenged and entertained.
Best evidence of the effects of the production could be observed standing on the sidewalk afterwards as patrons poured out of the theater laughing and rehashing their favorite vignettes.
Amazing the frequency with which one can see in these parts something extraordinary: a concert, a play, a lecture, an exhibition. In Jackson, last week’s opening night for New Stage Theatre’s production of “It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues” directed by our own William “Peppy” Biddy was itself extraordinary.
At intermission the power in the neighborhood where the theater is located went out. After huddling, cast and crew decided to go on with the show, unplugged. With the help of the auditorium’s emergency lights and the light from their cell phones, patrons found their way back to their seats.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, lanterns used for a production of “A Christmas Carol” were brought up from the basement and placed along the edge of the stage. With camp lanterns and backlighting via flashlights held by cast and crew, the show went on.
“The electricity generated between the cast, band and the audience could have illuminated all of Jackson at that point,” wrote Biddy. “It was truly magical. The power was restored just minutes before the show’s end and the cheering never stopped. Congratulations to the entire cast, crew and band. Tickets are gonna be hard to come by now!”
Actor John Maxwell called it “a monumentally wonderful evening … one of those storied kind of events that just goes down in theater lore.”
Recently I heard an interviewer ask a Mississippi artist to explain how it is Mississippians are such legendary storytellers — is it because they are good storytellers or is it because they have good stories to tell, he asked.
The answer, of course, is both, but as the artist noted, “You can’t have good storytellers without good stories. And, as anyone who has been around this place for any length of time will tell you, we have no shortage of those.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.