The director of “The Battle of Shallowford” says the characters in the play are entertaining, even before things get weird.
The Grand Island Little Theatre production is set on a quiet Sunday night in 1938. Nine regulars gather in a general store in Shallowford, N.C.
On their own, those characters are interesting, said director Ron Jelinek. But when those characters start to think Martians are attacking, “Things get really strange really quickly. It’s just a fun story,” Jelinek said.
The Sunday night in question is the night that Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio drama aired nationwide. That radio tale was believed more in some circles than others. Shallowford, N.C., was apparently filled with believers.
Cast member Scott Miller said the play is “just goofy.”
If people come away from the show having deep philosophical conversations, “I don’t know what play you saw. This ain’t it,” said Miller, who plays Newsome Jarvis.
Steve Spencer, who plays Burton Mock, called “The Battle of Shallowford” a “nice, light comedy.” Spencer’s character owns the mercantile shop where the show takes place.
It’s not all comedy, though. Chris White, who plays high school football hero Dewey Sowers, said the play has some drama, some romance and even elements of horror.
People with a sense of history will enjoy looking at the set. On the wall is a photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Customers are tempted by candy dispensers and an old Coca-Cola vending machine. The shelves are stocked with antique grocery boxes.
Jelinek and his wife, Dana, discovered “The Battle of Shallowford” at the Omaha Community Playhouse about 18 years ago.
“I really enjoyed the story to it, and she has been wanting to do this set for the longest time,” Ron Jelinek said.
James Truell and Don Deitemeyer also contributed a lot of work to the set. Local collectors provided the antiques.
Greg Sanchez, who plays choir director Fred Martin, likes the period in which the play is set.
One of the regulars at the store is Clunette Campbell. Brendan Nierman, who plays him, said Clunette is a gossip. He is opinionated, always complaining and not very bright.
Playing Clunette is “a blast,” Nierman said, because he has more energy than the characters he normally plays.
White’s character, who is 17, works off the energy the town gives the football star. But when he’s not being worshipped, he’s awkward, White said.
The Aurora resident said the characters are well-written. None of the actors, by the way, compared the comedy to “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Keith Smith portrays Lonny Hutchins, a 17-year-old who’s stuck in a small town. Lonny, who loves science fiction magazines, dreams of living in New York City and being a scientist.
“Basically, his pastime is kind of dreaming about the future and trying to figure how he can get out of town basically,” Smith said.
The show is the story of “two young kids falling in love,” said Smith, who plays one of the young adults. The other is played by Lexi Kleint, the only female in the cast. The fact that two young people are falling in love is obscured by the expected Martian attack.
He said “The Battle of Shallowford” is a comedy, but it has some heartfelt moments.
“The message really is about the future,” Jelinek said. “The future is something that some people embrace, and people don’t want any part of. But whether we want it or not, it’s coming, and we just have to roll with the punches and deal with it.”
Mike Stewart plays “Mr. Roy” Sprinkle, a distinguished Southern gentleman. The one-armed character is a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Stewart said the “great cast” is fun to be around.
Audiences are “going to have a good time,” Jelinek said.
Nierman said presenting “The Battle of Shallowford” is “a good way to start out the season. It’s funny.”
The show is sponsored by Hornady Manufacturing, with season support from Walmart.