By Sarah Vogelsong
In search of a report about Central Virginia, the region all historians remember (and the decades still cannot improve), where all of the women can shoot, all of the men are real sweet, and all of the children follow in the footsteps of Mr. Jefferson? Two Caroline natives and a local teacher are on the job in “A Rivah Home Companion,” an original play that will be performed by the Three-Penny Theatre Aug. 15 and 16 at the Gayton Kirk in Henrico.
Written by Caroline High School teacher Ray Carver and two former CHS students and Caroline natives, Lisa Carter and Derek B. Gayle, “A Rivah Home Companion” offers a night of comedy skits, musical acts, and storytelling in the mock-radio format made famous by Garrison Keillor’s long-running National Public Radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”
The idea initially stemmed from Gayton Kirk pastor Janet James and assistant pastor Jill Isola, who had seen a traveling performance of “A Prairie Home Companion” at Richmond’s Maymont Park in 2013. While chatting with Carver about the experience, they asked him why all the stories had to be about Minnesota—why couldn’t they be about Virginia?
For Carver, who hails from the Midwest but has been a Central Virginia resident since 2000, that kernel of an idea quickly took hold, and after a few meetings with the ministers, he sat down with Carter and Gayle. Through brainstorming sessions that took place over a number of months, the three hammered out a script.
“It was just a real collaborative effort,” said Carver.
Like “A Prairie Home Companion,” “A Rivah Home Companion” is made up of a variety of sketches—but with a Virginia twist, addressing such topics as southern cooking, the Richmond Sweet Tea Party of colonial days, the hysterical response of Virginians to news of an impending snowstorm, and a historical re-enactors’ dating service.
The latter sketch grew out of the writers’ desire to incorporate humorous commercials into their script to space out the sketches, a format “A Prairie Home Companion” uses to great effect. Carter had heard that after re-enactors stage a battle, they generally hold a dance for everyone involved, with period-style dancing. After these dances, it’s not uncommon for re-enactors to start dating. From this kernel of information, the sketch was born.
“I think it’s really apropos now, especially with the sesquicentennial and all the re-enactments that are going on now in Virginia,” said Carver.
As a Midwest transplant, Carver in particular was able to take a unique perspective on Central Virginia.
“They’ve got a completely different culture up there than they have down in Richmond,” he said. Those differences range from different ways of cooking to different types of local government—and of course, very different weather. In the Midwest, Carver said, there has to be at least a foot of snow on the ground before a municipality will consider shutting down. But in Central Virginia, he said, “three, four inches will shut the town down.”
Naturally, Caroline County ended up influencing the “A Rivah Home Companion.”
“Both Lisa and Derek have grown up in Caroline County,” said Carver. “Like anybody, where you grow up, it influences you and how you look at things.” And for himself, “I’m up in Caroline County almost 200 days a year, and a lot of the people I know, that I interact with, are in the county.”
When the writing was done and it came time to stage the show, the Gayton Kirk was the natural choice for a venue, given its record of supporting the arts and its association with the Three-Penny Theatre, which was launched in 2013 as a collaborative project by Carver, the church, and the Lord Nelson Players, a theatre troupe founded by Carter, Gayle, and two other Caroline County natives, Cassie Morgan and Tommy Proffitt III.
Ultimately, some of the musicians involved in the show came from the Kirk, while others were drawn from personal connections.
“You throw your net out and then you pull it back in, and you get this bounty of talent,” said Carver. It’s been particularly enjoyable, he said, to see the actors really come into their own with their parts: “They’re like flowers in the spring; they just popped up overnight,” he said.
All Three-Penny shows are pay-what-you-can.
“The idea behind Three-Penny Theatre is that everybody can come see the show and it isn’t going to break the bank,” said Carver.
Performances will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 15 and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Aug. 16. Tickets can be reserved online at www.3pennyplays.org or www.thegaytonkirk.org.
Carver encouraged everyone to come out and get a glimpse of their home on stage.
“It’s an inexpensive night out, and you’ll have a good time,” he promised.