“Faith County” is a silly comedy, said John Haberman, Grand Island Senior High dramatic teacher.
There is no hidden message for the audience to figure out, no larger moral to be learned, Haberman said. Audience members are only expected to sit down, get comfortable in their seats, relax and have some laughs.
Selena Aguilar, who plays the part of Naomi, said the first act of the play takes place at the county fair, with the second act continuing at the fairgrounds, but centering around Naomi’s wedding day.
In giving the set-up for some of the scenes, Aguilar could not keep a straight face. She kept breaking out in laughter. Aguilar noted that Naomi has some wedding day jitters, which is evident because “I hide out in the Port-a-Potty.”
After laughing over that scene, Aguilar said the setting for Naomi’s wedding is unusual for two reasons. Not only is she getting married on the fairgrounds, but the place where she plans to recite her wedding vows also includes a headstone for a person who recently died.
That again caused Aguilar to break out in laughter.
In separate interviews, Aguilar and Abbey Kutlas, who plays Mildred, described the relationship that Naomi and Mildred have with each other, as well as every other woman in their small town, which is set in the Deep South: “frenemies.”
Kutlas noted that Mildred is a master of the back-handed compliment who possesses the ability to say something that may seem innocuous enough on the surface, but is actually an insult.
She said Mildred also has the ability to make excuses for her behavior. As soon as one character – who is wearing a plaid dress that Mildred detests – gets out of earshot, Mildred immediately tells another character, “I don’t like to be critical, but ...”
The county fair causes Mildred and Naomi to become rivals. Naomi is a crafter who has won a lot of county fair competitions with her creations. But this year, Mildred decides to enter her own sculpture to win a ribbon or trophy or some kind of recognition at the fair.
On the other hand, Aguilar said, Mildred and Naomi grew up together. That means when it comes to being “frenemies,” the two Faith County residents may be about 51 percent friends and 49 percent enemies.
That is especially true when it comes to Naomi’s man troubles. She is dating Luther Carson, portrayed by Schuyler Emde, and is hurt when her boyfriend says he would rather go to the county fair’s fertilizer demonstration than her craft competition. In that situation, Mildred tries to be of some comfort to Naomi.
Naomi is not the only character with boyfriend troubles.
Josephine Nienaber portrays Faye McFaye, who she describes as boy crazy. Faye fancies herself as a poet. On the other hand, she has trouble picking up signals on whether a man is in love with her. Nienaber said she thinks Delbert Fink, played by Andrew Brott, has graced her with a look of love. But Nienaber said Delbert eventually reveals that his look was caused by indigestion.
All the characters in Faith County have their own distinctive quirks. And because the characters live in a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Nienaber is a foreign exchange student from Germany. She said that high schools in Germany do not provide extracurricular activities such as school plays or musicals. She said she always thought she might have the talent to appear on stage, but added, “I never had the opportunity to perform.”
As a result, Nienaber said, she really appreciates being in “Faith County.” “I’m just so happy to be participating in it,” she said. She also said the opportunity to be in a school play is something she will definitely miss when she returns to Germany, where she still has two more years of high school.
Nienaber noted that she arrived in Grand Island at the beginning of August, too late to attend the Hall County Fair. But she was able to go to the Nebraska State Fair, which in some ways is a much grander version of all Nebraska’s county fairs. She said in Germany, she attended a fall festival where people showed food and animals. But the German festival is still nothing like the Nebraska State Fair or a even a smaller county fair.
She said state fairs and county fairs, perhaps like high school extracurricular activities, seem to be a uniquely American institution.
But Haberman noted that Hall County has never had a fair like the Faith County Fair. Nor has any county in the Deep South ever had a county fair like the one in Faith County. He said that is probably a good thing.