Sunday, April 22, 2012

'Mountain Rose' historical drama blooms into life

     The life story of Rose Anna McCoy is only a footnote in American history, but it’s the focus of screenwriter Stephen DeWoody and his play “Mountain Rose: The Ballet of Rose Anna McCoy.” The play is the winner of the 21st annual Valencia College Florida Playwright Competition.

     The deadly blood rivalry between the Hatfield and McCoy families during the Civil War era serves as the background of the tale. The characters and events are all based on real-life accounts, and authentic dialogue reminiscent of the time connects the story into a conceivable series of events.

     “I’ve researched the families before, and this little gem of a story starring Rose Anna just stuck with me,” said screenwriter Stephen Dewoody. He has written several plays over the years and also was the winner of the same competition in 2010 with his play “Doors.”

     A detailed stage resembling a rustic log cabin in the woods and soft fiddle-driven bluegrass music filled the small Black Box Theater, creating the effect of stepping back in time. A family seated in the front row stated they were reminded by the authentic stage of their family home in Boone, North Carolina.

     Once a locational connection is made, the story focuses the audience's attention on a mysterious illness slowly killing the strong-willed Rose Anna. To further explain this moment and the Hatfield-McCoy feud, a guitar-wielding Balladeer played by Stephen Nettles steps out and addresses the audience with a song and story. He sets the record straight throughout the production during brief moments between scenes while he acts as narrator and gives hints about what is to come.

     “She tries to be a rock for herself because that's the way she has always been,” said Samantha Ann Schwartz, who plays Rose Anna McCoy, whose strong stage presence and wholesome beauty help emphasize both of these qualities in Rose.

     Rose is known by her family and others as tough-as-nails, with a strong will to fight. Strikingly beautiful, she has the attention of most young boys around her town. Her life may have been uneventful and the family feud may have never reached its deadly heights if not for the forsaken love affair Rose engages in with Johnse Hatfield.

     “He does some things that aren't really the best, but I try to portray him in a likeable way,” said Nick Lougheed, who plays Johnse Hatfield. For his first ever public performance, Lougheed seamlessly mastered his lines and movements, and appeared as exceptional as any theater veteran.

     The two quickly fall in love after the charming Johnse connects with Rose on a chance encounter. The young lovebirds both remember feeling something as children when they first meet, and Johnse, worried he would lose Rose, pledges to marry her and speak to both fathers in an attempt to make everything work out.

     Johnse’s father instantly denies this request, saying that no Hatfield will ever marry any McCoy as long as he’s still alive. Knowing partly that Rose’s move isolates her from her family, he does allow Rose to say in their household and even bed with Johnse.

     Rose’s dreams of winning the Hatfield family over are crushed as her and Johnse drift apart after six months. The relationship comes to a traumatic end when Rose catches Johnse shacked up in the barn with her younger cousin Nancy McCoy. A heated fight breaks out between this secret love triangle, and Rose promises to leave Johnse and never come back.

     The ever-persistent Johnse is confronted with a final bombshell when he gives Rose a mountain rose and professes his undying love for her. She used this moment to let Johnse know she is pregnant with his child, and the confused Johnse acts as if he is unsure what he thinks of being a father.

     Members of the McCoy family come to arrest Johnse and take him off to be hung for crimes he allegedly committed. The bright mountain rose falls to the ground as Rose Anna rushes off on horseback during the dead of night to warn the Hatfield family and safe Johnse’s life.

     This was seen as the ultimate insult by her family and Johnse replayed this brave act by leaving Rose once again, and married the same young temptress Nancy McCoy that cause their initial separation. Rose later lost her baby after a few months of life due to complications from a premature birth. Johnse never once came to see his daughter or ever speak with Rose again.

     More tragedy comes amid family fighting, leading to the deaths of members of both families. Rose Anna remains in bed until she dies at a relatively young age. The high emotions of this tale are reminiscent of classic Shakespearean tragedies like “Romeo and Juliet.”

     “The actors are creating these roles for the first time, and there's a lot of excitement in that,” said Julia Gagne, the plays director. She has overseen this playwright competition from the beginning, and loves giving opportunities for individuals looking to get involved with productions and Valencia in the future.

By James Tutten

(Published: April 11, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 11.)

(All photos courtesy of Drew Hines)

A heated love triangle develops between the lead cast members, driving the young lovers apart.

The bold set is detailed to look straight out of the Civil War era, down to the wall mounted rifle.


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