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Local man’s play is big hit in New Albany

“Joe at the Bar”, a play written by Don Wicks, a Picayune resident and Chairman of the Picayune Writers’ Group, was received with a standing ovation at the Tallahatchie Riverfest in New Albany, Miss. The yearly celebration, which honors William Faulkner, their favorite son and Pulitzer Prize winning author, hosts two and a half days of live musical entertainment, a children’s festival, a 5k run, food and craft vendors and a literary event.

On Friday, a panel presented aspects of Faulkner’s life and presented award certificates to the student and adult winners for short-story and play winners. Saturday afternoon, the second place play, “Wild about the South”, was read and the first place entry, “Joe at the Bar,” was performed by an exceptional group of actors that was directed by Mary Stanton.

The marquee advertised the play in front of the Magnolia Civic Center. The center has a 1,000 seat theater, where the play was performed. Like most local theater groups, The Tallahatchie River Players are a small group, dedicated to preserving the art of live performance theater.

“Seeing your efforts performed on stage is both exhilarating and humbling,” Wicks said.

“It is surreal in the sense that only dreams can create, grateful in the energy sustained by the actors and the audience coming together in symbiotic laughter, disappointing at times when the audience didn’t laugh and surprised at other scenes when they did, pleased at the overall effect, but more pleased with the actors, those whose actions elicited the audience response,” he said.

“All I did was write it,” Don continues, “but they’re the ones that brought it to the audience. I felt one with them, and my usual distaste for notoriety evaporated as I approached the stage to shake their hands and tell them how marvelous they were. They honored me with a marquee signed by them and by allowing me to sign the offstage wall where a similar marquee was painted on a brick wall. Some asked me to sign the special tee shirts made for the play and given to the actors and myself in memory. Had I known what to expect, I would have spent more time with them, and gotten to know them, but my wife and I had a long drive, and home is a welcome place after three days on the road; three days traveling in a world that usually take place only in daydreams,” Wicks said.

Joe, the central, though missing, character can be described as an old guy that sits at the end of the bar that doesn’t say anything. The regulars become alarmed at his absence and go about gathering information, albeit suspect, and place a personal ad hoping they can find him. After the ad comes out, Joe returns, chagrined at the falsity of the ad and leaves the bar cursing that his name isn’t even Joe. Shocked, the group huddles speechless when another member of the group, Emma, a lady of the evening comes walking in and passes unnoticed to the bathroom. The group finally comes out of their doldrums, wondering where Emma is and when they can’t reach her, set out to rescue her from whatever evil fate fills a drunks mind. After they rush out the door, Emma yells, “Hey, who turned out the lights,” ending the play.

When asked about how the idea for the play came about, Don answered, “It was early in my writing career and I needed a story for a writing class. Knowing how drunks act in a crisis I began constructing the story. The writing class loved it. After many refinements, I read it to my local writing group and they couldn’t stop laughing. After the meeting I got the idea that it would make a great one act play. I studied formats I downloaded from the internet and wrote the play. In the first contest I entered, the play placed in the 16 finalists but didn’t win. I heard about the Tallahatchie contest from Philip Levine, President of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, followed the guidelines and sent it in. I was shocked and thrilled to receive the call that I had won, that I would receive a $100 check and that the play would be performed at the Riverfest. As my wife Suzanne and I drove to New Albany, my nerves began to frazzle. What if they didn’t laugh,” Wicks said.

Don was asked who the characters were based on.

“I know, when people read a story, they think a large part of it comes from real life. This is not the case for most writers. While the past plays a part, most fiction comes from the writer’s imagination. I’ll quote Faulkner, who, in a letter to a friend answers that very question. ‘The good and lasting stuff comes out of an individual’s imagination and sensitivity to and comprehension of the suffering of every man, anyman, not out of the memory of his own grief.’ And I might add humor and all emotions to that category. Everyone has a story. The secret is not in the idea, but putting it on paper in a readable, enjoyable format. This requires many edits and rewrites. It would do a prospective writer well to buy a style manual, and that’s only for grammar. Then there’s things like Point of View and tense, dialog and narrative, and sentence and paragraph structure. My first manuscript was atrocious. After four years and thousands of pages, I’m still learning the rules. It’s not easy. That’s why critiques are essential. Our writing group has a weekly critique session that helps a lot,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to sit at the computer and create characters and situations, but after the fun, comes the work: the constant edits. A story is never finished until it’s published, and then it can still be improved. I go to critique sessions, hoping for praise, knowing I’ll get lamb-basted but grateful for the insight. People with tender egos, won’t survive. We have to remember it’s the story, not ourselves, that’s important,” Wicks said.