Columnists

‘The Lilies of the Field’ Play is About Faith, Endurance, Belfry Director Says

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Linnéa Leatherman of Westfield is director of “The Lilies of the Field” — featuring Patrick Crowley (from left), Indianapolis; Gene Burnett, Fishers; Jan Jamison, Westfield; Judy McGroarty, Indianapolis; Kim O’Mara, Lawrence; DéJon LéTray Marshall-Fisher, Indianapolis; Jan Borcherding, Noblesville; Diane Reed, Noblesville; and Gideon Roark, Yorktown. Here, they gather for rehearsal on Monday prior to opening night Friday of Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s production, which runs weekends through March 27 at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville.
Want TO GO?

What: Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s Belfry Theatre presents “The Lilies of the Field” play.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 27.

Where: The Ivy Tech Auditorium, 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville.

How much: $17 for adults, $14 for ages 12 and younger and ages 65 and older.

Reservations: 317-773-1085 or visit https://www.thebelfrytheatre.com/

It was the “beautifully crafted story about faith in God and how He often provides others as a means to answer our prayers” was the reason that Linnéa Leatherman of Westfield chose “The Lilies of the Field” for her first play to direct for The Belfry Theatre.

“We have all needed faith and endurance to get us through the last few years, and this play is about a nun from what was East Germany in 1954 who never waivers in her faith that God will send her “a big stronk man.” Those are the words (and spelling) that author William Barrett used to describe the big strong man who appeared to help a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel in his 1962 novel that was also a 1963 film starring the late Sidney Poitier, who just died three days before the first read-through of this Belfry Theatre play. That story is now being told in The Belfry Theatre’s upcoming production of the play, which opens Friday and continues weekends through March 27. It’s the third show in Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s 57th season, and the show is dedicated to Poitier, acknowledged in the show’s playbill.

“I love how the play teaches us that you never know whe0n you may be the answer to someone’s prayer, Leatherman said.

A Gary, Ind.-born actor by the name of DéJon LéTray Marshall-Fisher plays Poitier’s lead role of Homer Smith, the handyman, in all eight performances of The Belfry play.

Kim O’Mara plays her first lead role as the main character, Mother Maria Marthe (and came in well after the play was into its rehearsal period due to replacing the original cast member), and “has an amazing job” and “is the perfect foil” to Homer Smith, Leatherman said.

“The play is set in 1954, and Homer is a Black man recently discharged from the U.S. Army and traveling across the country in his station wagon when he meets the Rev. Mother … who has been praying for God to send her a big, strong man to build her a chapel.” Poitier was the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

“It is an iconic role,” Leatherman said. “As a director, you find yourself figuratively holding your breath, and praying, before your auditions for an actor to come your way who not only fits the type of character needed for an iconic role, but who has great acting skills and the physical stamina to carry the role.”

She said Marshall-Fisher is “marvelous” in the role. “He has created a character with which our audiences will relate and whom they will adore.   DéJon graduated from the theater program at Indiana State University and learned there how to work hard to create a multi-faceted character like Homer. He has not only done that but has made it a fun experience for all of us, as we have seen him bring Homer to life.” (Read more about  Marshall-Fisher in an upcoming edition of The Times.)

Although she has been on several community theater stages, in the Indy metro area, also in northwest Indiana and Boston, she had never thought about seeking a directing experience in this area. Then, three years ago, her friend Belfry play director Carla Crandall of Noblesville began talking to her about directing for the playhouse. So Leatherman applied to be a guest director.

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
DéJon LéTray Marshall-Fisher as Homer Smith, the traveling handyman who stops
in to help the nuns build a chapel, and Patrick Crowley (right) rehearse for a scene
from the cast of “The Lilies of the Field” play prior to opening night Friday of Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s production, which runs weekends, through March 27 at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville.

While the show has been rehearsing in The Belfry Theatre, performances will be in The Ivy Tech Auditorium at Ivy Tech Hamilton County in Noblesville. “It’s a rather bittersweet experience, because we are in this marvelous tiny theater with all of its wonderful history, some of which includes my husband, Duane (an actor), and I being onstage there, yet our audiences will not meet us there,” Leatherman said. She arrives an hour before rehearsal and sits in front of the stage and thinks about not only her show and its rehearsals but all of the shows and all of the people who have been on stage and poured their hearts out to Belfry audiences over the years.

Leatherman found casting the show (she lost two cast members after being well into the rehearsal process) and finding crew (she had to replace several staff members) were among the challenges of doing the show. She said finding cast and crew was difficult due to “so much competition” and because many of the theaters “are in production at the same time.”

Another challenge was rehearsing on The Belfry’s “tiny stage,” while knowing that the show would be performed on a much larger stage, where the actors would wear microphones and adjust their blocking, at The Ivy Tech Auditorium.

“While a challenge, it is also a wonderful opportunity for an actor to expand his experience and vision,” said Leatherman, who in the past has worked with Christian Youth Theater Indy with casts of up to 90 youth.

The set is a side-by-side model of the nuns’ refectory and a cafe owned and operated by Jose Gonzalez. Creatively designed by Ian Marshall-Fisher, constructed by Ian and Robert Rave and cast members, and decorated by Jan Borcherding and Kathy Rosemary, the set allows for nonstop movement of the multitude of scenes in this show. There are no set changes to slow down the forward momentum of the scenes, she said, and the actors bring their own props onstage and off, so nothing stops the show except the ends of the acts, Leatherman said.

She feels blessed to use the Ivy Tech Auditorium, where her cast and crew moved their set and assembled it on the brief span of last Sunday afternoon and followed up with a tech cue-to-cue, “where actors go to places for each scene and we make sure out lighting design by Erica Matters and my staging for the actors match up, along with our sound design by Geoff Lynch.” Then they will have to move everything — including set, furniture, props and costumes procured for cast by Judy McGroarty — back to The Belfry on the final Sunday afternoon.

Leatherman’s enjoyed working as a team, creating this show. Assistant director Lori Lavalle and Leatherman worked together in this capacity on two “enormous” CYT shows, “Peter Pan: A New Musical” and “Tarzan,” with 70 to 90 youth ages 7-19 in the cast and crew.

She’s glad to collaborate with her assistant director, “an exceptionally creative person with ideas that often enhance a scene in ways I have not considered” and have Lavalle’s experience with tech issues.

Show producer Andrea Odle came into the group late but, fortunately, Odle is “an extremely motivated person who gets the ball rolling in all kinds of situations, which has been just what has been needed for our show, and we all really appreciate what she has been able to accomplish for us,” Leatherman said. “There are all kinds of tasks that need to be done to mount a community theater production, and the producer is responsible for a great deal for that. It’s a big job.”

Leatherman grew up in Portage, Ind., and started her acting career at the elaborate Gary Music Theatre at the Valparaiso Opera House, and with Ross Summer Music Theatre in Merrillville. She also did theater while living in Boston during the late 1970s. “Theater brings people together, and you become very close to those with whom you perform,” Leatherman said. She met her husband, Duane, at the Repertory Theatre at CTS in 1987 in the direction of “Camelot,” and have been performing together and separately ever since.

She was asked to go out to Myers Dinner Theatre in Hillsboro to work as a professional actress in 2005, and then was asked to direct in 2006, which began her career of directing in musical productions. She was there for 13  years. While she was at Myers, Leatherman was constantly performing in a show while rehearsing for the next show, playing many leading roles, giving her “a resume that many would envy.”

For “The Lilies of the Field,” she conducted auditions in mid-December because she thought it might be difficult to cast the show with so many competing theaters having auditions over the winter, and because she wanted to allow for rehearsal cancellations due to winter weather.

The show has five nuns, four men and a folksinger.

“Each of them tells a part of the story, and each is important to the show,” Leatherman said. “I always tell my actors that the playwright wrote each specific line to tell you more about the character, or to tell the story. That is why it is so important to always memorize a script exactly as it is written.”

– Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.