Beginning Thursday, writer and director Martin Follose will watch characters he wrote come to life for the Umpqua Actors Community Theatre audience.
“Fading Gray is about two Civil War soldiers — one northern, one southern — who are injured on the battle field and as they lay there waiting to be rescued, they talk and they kind of turn out to be friends by the end,” explained Follose. “One of them asks the other a favor, and he is going to complete the favor. It’s a love story, for sure — one of the men travels to the house of the other man’s fiancée and meets her. He has secrets to divulge, but doesn’t want to divulge them.”
Follose first premiered the play at Riddle High School six years ago. He was inspired by stories of soldiers in World War I laying down arms and celebrating Christmas together, no matter which side they fought for.
“It’s a very sad play, it’s heartbreaking, but its also a love story. It is uplifting at the end,” Follose said.
This production will be somewhat different from the original. While the main plot is the same, Follose has added at least two new scenes and changed and added plot twists.
“The lines are more refined, ‘cause I was able to go through and listen to what my students had done,” Follose said. “I actually wrote a scene just three or four weeks ago between two of the characters because the actors were so awesome at acting that I wrote another scene for them. And it’s a very good scene.”
There are 17 cast members ranging in age from 11 to 79 years old and various acting experience. Peter Wickliffe, who plays Union soldier Cullen Guthrie, brings more than 10 years experience to the role. Wickliffe commutes from Ashland every week to take part in his second UACT production.
“I’m very fortunate and feel very blessed to be coming back to make another show here,” Wickliffe said. “I had so much fun with ‘The Little Mermaid’ and made a lot of great connections during that show, I was like ‘well, let’s see what else I can get myself into here at UACT.’”
Confederate soldier William Covington is played by newcomer Ian Whetzel, who says he fell back into acting after watching UACT’s last show four times.
“I acted before through UCC when I was seven, so it has been a long time,” Whetzel said. “This play has been a lot of work, but definitely worth it. It has made me a far better actor. I think Marty was definitely the right person to start back in on this whole journey with.”
According to Follose, some of that hard work has been because of the specific ideas he has for each character.
“I know that some of (the cast) might have been a little frustrated because these characters, since I wrote them, they live within me and I have a very specific idea of how they say, what they say, how they walk,” admitted Follose. “So I’ve been giving more direction than they are probably used to and more than I normally give.”
Raegan Prawitz, who plays love interest Ellie Lane, agrees that Follose has been very particular, but says that has only served to make her a better actor. Prawitz has been acting since she was eight and has worked with Follose before, but this is the first time he has been her director.
“It has been really frustrating at some points. Some points I’ve wanted to cry, some points I have wanted to give up and just say ‘you know what, I am going to say the line however I want to say the line’ but he knows exactly what he wants and I need to show that I can do that,” said Prawitz. “Marty knows I can do it. He has even said ‘I wouldn’t push you if I didn’t know you could do it.”
Prawitz also attributes her growth to her fellow actors Wickliffe and Whetzel.
“Marty is a really good director. He knows what he wants and that is really helpful to an actor. It is super helpful when you have that question of ‘am I on the right track?’ It is nice to have that feedback, those very definitive lines to work within,” Wickliffe said. “I think sometimes directors are a little too free and they think they are doing you a favor by just letting you go your own course; don’t get me wrong, I like that too, but feedback is necessary to make you better within that character and a better actor.”
Follose said it has been fantastic to work with the cast he has.
Fading Gray will open at 7 p.m., Jan. 31 and will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Feb. 24.
“If you do come, you will love it, but you will need to bring Kleenex. It is a heartwarming love story and even though it will bring you to tears, its still hopeful at the end,” concluded Follose.