Sarah, Plain and Tall by Joseph Robinette, from the Newbery-Award winning book by Patricia MacLachlan, is the simple story of a family that needs a mother and of the woman who gradually fills this need.
Set in the early 1900s, this play brings to life the charming, heartwarming story of a Kansas farmer, Jacob Witting, a widower with two children—Anna and Caleb, who places an ad in the newspapers seeking a wife.
He receives a letter from a Sarah Wheaton of Maine who says she will visit the family for a month to see how things work out: “I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall.” Narrated by Anna reminiscing on the eve of her wedding, the story unfolds in a fascinating flashback on that often exciting, sometimes tumultuous month when Sarah and the Wittings came to know one another and learned a few things about themselves as well.
It emphasizes the humanity of characters who yearn to be loved but fear they may be unworthy of love. Winner of the AATE Distinguished Play Award, Sarah, Plain and Tall is probably most familiar to people who have seen the Hallmark Hall of Fame motion picture which starred Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.
“We chose Sarah, Plain and Tall to start off 2020 because this show is all about new beginnings,” said Alfred Weser, vice president of marketing for Butterfield Stage Players in Gainesville. “It’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that frightens you, not because it’s “frightening” per se, but because it’s uncomfortable and new. It’s also a show about families. We felt that overall; this show was a perfect way to bring in 2020.”
Weser also said that by watching a show about supporting families and taking chances and being brave, and most hope to motivate the community to do something in 2020 that helps step outside the average comfort zone.
“Theatre is all about changing lives and if we can help inspire even one person to try something new or maybe re-connect with family while also supporting live theatre and local artists, then I feel like we’ve done our job,” he said.
Starring in this production are first time Butterfield actors, Kalee Owens, David Owens and their son Sean. The Owens Family have lived in the area for about 3 years now and, being huge supporters of the arts, have seen many of the productions at Butterfield Stage. Kalee and David Owens were thespians during their school careers but haven’t stepped on a stage since graduating college.
When asked why they decided to get back into performing after such a long hiatus, Kalee Owens said, “I had met a few people from Butterfield and we just truly enjoyed the people, the atmosphere and the building itself. Everyone we met who worked with Butterfield was kind and genuine and that made us feel comfortable with getting involved.”
Sean is autistic and his parents felt this would be a good opportunity for them to help him experience theatre without the fear of having to do it alone.
“Autism can be socially crippling for some children, depending where they are on the spectrum, and doing theatre would give him an outlet where he doesn’t feel pressured to socially interact,” Kalee Owens said. “A safe space, if you will, where he can grow and then apply his experiences to real world scenarios.”
Kalee Owens hopes Sean will gain a lot out of this experience.
“My biggest hope is that Sean will discover that his costume isn’t something that only has to be on stage,” she said
But helping their son isn’t the only reason that Kalee and David are enjoying this experience.
“In the show, David and I are playing a married couple,” Kalee Owens said. “The wife is a little sarcastic and funny while the husband is a very sound minded, down-to-business kind of guy and that describes who we are perfectly! It’s so easy to get into character because Craig cast the show perfectly! I love that David and I are getting to build a new type of camaraderie together. This may sound cheesy, but he is my best friend and it is fun to experience something with him that we both have such a passion for.”
David Owens is hoping that being in the show with his family will also inspire his grandchildren to step outside of their comfort zones and expand their horizons as well.
“We want our grandchildren to be well rounded, so we take them to the symphony and the ballet,” he said. “We have a four year old grandchild who recently expressed an interest in wanting to audition for Mary Poppins Jr. this summer at Butterfield. One of our hopes in doing the show with Sean is that our grandchildren will see us on stage and be inspired to take that next step themselves. Sometimes children can be shy or nervous when it comes to doing something new or different, but it makes it easier for them if they see someone they love doing it and having fun.”
If the Owens Family are a small indication of the people involved in this show.
“This is a simple, good story and we have a simple way of presenting it that fits the feel of the show because at the end of the day, it’s not about the set pieces or the props, this show is a love letter to the complexity and beauty of family,” Director Craig Hertel said. “It’s all about the relationships and the people involved.”
Sarah, Plain and Tall also features Cassie Newton, Colt Hazel, Shea Hook, Sam Warren, Terry Colquitt, Rachael Perkins, Emily Tarrant, Claire Warren, David Owens, Kalee Owens, Sean Owens, Casper Norwood, Deserae Pouncil & Ruthanne Eddleman.
Performances for Sarah, Plain and Tall are scheduled Jan. 17-18, Jan. 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 19 and Jan. 26 at 2:30 p.m. at Butterfield Stage, 201 S. Denton St., Gainesville. Tickets can be purchased anytime online for this show, and any others for this season, at http://www.butterfieldstage.org or by calling 940-665-1284.
Other shows to look forward to this year include Marvin’s Room showing March 6-15, Cabaret showing June 18-28, and Noises Off showing October 11- 20.