July 4, 2004

Section: Local News

Page: 1A


`Stonewall Country' bows off stage

Bill Kramer

Special to The Daily News Leader Special

Twenty years later, epic play still enthralls


By Bill Kramer

Special Writer

LEXINGTON - Ending with a bang, the final rendition of Theater at Lime Kiln's "Stonewall Country" on Saturday evening treated a capacity crowd to a night of reunions and impromptu performances that even the elements couldn't dampen.


Ending a 20-year run of the play celebrating the life and times of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson amidst rumblings of thunder and rain, this year's cast was joined by surprise guests Robin and Linda Williams, who wrote the original musical score, as well as original producer and Lime Kiln's co-founder Tommy Spencer and the play's first director and writer, Don Baker.


As the audience filed in to the cozy outdoor venue, each was given a commemorative program with photos of the first cast and the current group, as well as a 20th anniversary edition CD of the original cast recording.


Linda Williams called it "old home week" and termed the night a "farewell party to Stonewall," and her characterization rang true as former cast members joined the current cast in a unique rendering of the evergreen production.


Less than a half-hour into the performance, current Artistic Director John Healey strode to the stage and recognized many former cast members including Barry Mines, Doug Harwood, Spruce Henry and others.


Healy said before the show that the reunions "had everyone excited to get together again" and it showed as the entire cast beamed as the audience applauded as he presented Spencer, the Williams, and Baker with framed photographs of the statue of Stonewall Jackson that stands on post at Virginia Military Institute.


Spencer remembered earlier in the evening about the first year of the presentation of "Stonewall Country" in the summer of 1985 when the then-governor of Virginia Charles Robb and his wife, Linda, flew in by helicopter to watch the play, while Baker remarked, "I'm surprised the play lasted twenty years".


Lasted it did, and no doubt, many times over the past 20 years, the cast and audience had to deal with the elements. Just an hour into the last performance Saturday night, the threatening thunder brought rain, which forced the proceedings inside the adjacent covered area.


Almost the entire crowd stayed and as they settled into the dry tented area, they were treated to an impromptu fiddle tune rendered by Robin Williams, Jim Watson, James Leva and Harwood.


No worse for wear, the cast picked up right where they left off, with some humorous asides regarding the weather and engaged the crowd with the very final act.


"After twenty years, it's probably time to move on to some other productions," remarked Healey, a sentiment echoed by Linda Williams. Theater at Lime Kiln will continue to produce outstanding theatrical offerings, as well as the outstanding concert series, but Saturday did mark the end of a tradition that put it on the map, and it was a night that won't soon be forgotten by those in attendance.