‘What Really Happens the Night Before Christmas?’ opens Dec. 6

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — Relatives are building a jail cell in the front yard of 1702 E. Washington St.

The construction doesn’t require Charlette Rhue Bennett, owner of Rhue’s, Too beauty salon, to obtain a conditional use permit. That’s because the bars being built is meant only for temporary use — and on stage at that.

Submitted photo Michael Morman and Pamela Patterson are in the throes of a domestic argument.

Submitted photo
Michael Morman and Pamela Patterson are in the throes of a domestic argument.

On Dec. 6 at the Ansonia Theatre in Wadesboro, the Rockingham businesswoman will have more than two dozen actors play out “What Really Happens the Night Before Christmas?”, a series of vignettes revolving around a cast of characters who wondered how they ended up in life where they did. The one hour, 45-minute play is set on Christmas Eve. Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Admission is a suggested $10 per person donation.

This play, which Bennett wrote in 2009 to perform at Parsons Grove Missionary Baptist Church, does not hide its Christian-based message. She’s hopeful, however, that a neutral venue will help attract a diverse audience to the musical gospel, which features a dozen songs. Churchgoers at church, Bennett said, are primarily African-American. The message of her play spreads across races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Throughout the play, there are examples of strife within a family, and within oneself. But Bennett doesn’t offer only the problems, she attempts to offer solutions and resolutions. Through the play, she’s able to present real-life situations — whether from her own life or someone else’s — and explore potential responses, which could help someone else facing a similar situation.

The cast includes four from Richmond County, including narrator Linda Morgan, shopper Avis Johnson, correctional officer April Morman and Michael Morman, who plays the role of abusive husband. Bennett said Morman is “a teddy bear” of a man who struggled to portray a violent character.

Submitted photo Weaver Thomas plays an inmate while April Morman portrays a correctional officer.

Submitted photo
Weaver Thomas plays an inmate while April Morman portrays a correctional officer.

“I had to ask him, ‘do you think you can play this,'” Bennett asked.

During rehearsals, however, Morman has come through. Morman and others help convey Bennett’s message and goal to “release, uplift, inspire … just to see there’s redemption, hope, forgiveness. I’m hoping people will see some of themselves in these characters.”

To that end, Bennett doesn’t stray from real life. While acting methodology often leaves a barrier between real life and stories played out on stage, Bennett tried to break through that barrier. Through the play, Bennett — a self-proclaimed accidental playwright who started in 2007 when she and her cousin were brainstorming ideas for a Christmas event for church. Her cousin suggested she write a play. Though Bennett grew up “around readers and storytellers,” she never figured to write a play herself.

Bennett graduated from Wake Forest University in 1983 with a dual degree in English and Sociology.  Though Bennett said the last thing in the world she’d wanted to do was work in a hair salon — she’d grown up in exactly that atmosphere in her mother’s shop — she’d put practical use of her degree from Wake Forest University behind her long ago when, only a few months out of college, realized it was the first and best-paying job she could get at the time.

“She planted that seed in me,” said Bennett. “That’s how it all began. I never had any inkling I would be writing. I’ve always loved words. I just didn’t now what I would do with them.”

The name “Octavia Plays,” comes from Bennett’s mother, Easter G. Rhue. The 86-year-old Anson County resident continues to have a major impact on her daughter’s life. Growing up, though, was something special. Bennett said her mother had a list of four girls’ names: Phanalphie Fadette, Jeralyn Charlette, Altavia Willett and Brenda LaBrette. But Easter Rhue had only two children. And when Easter was saying “Altavia,” Bennett, as a child, heard “Octavia.”

In some families, Bennett knows, there’s the potential for drama when presenting family issues on stage for the public to see. That’s not the case here.

Rhue, Bennett said, is “my biggest cheerleader.”

 

 

 

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