Four local thespians are spending their summer working to save a West Virginia institution-the Hatfields and McCoys.
No, not saving the families; they can probably take care of themselves, thank you very much. This quartet is working to revive and breathe new life into the dramatic performance of the classic feud that has been staged at Cliffside Amphitheater in Grandview Park, Raleigh County, W.Va., since 1972.
But even before the irate outlaws took the stage, Theatre West Virginia was presenting Honey In The Rock, a tale of the Civil War and the formation of West Virginia, since 1961. Through the years other performances were added and subtracted.
Four local actors are among those working to save Theatre West Virginia this summer near Beckley, W.Va. Pictured from left are Director and Randall McCoy, Dan Henthorn; Allifair McCoy, Haley Hizer; Calvin McCoy, Travis Leonard; and Jim Vance, Bob Athey. For more information on TWV, visit www.theatrewestvirginia.com. The play will be staged Wednesday through Sunday, July 11-Aug. 2. (Photo provided)
All of that theatrical creativity, though, came to a halt last fall, causing a 54-year-old tradition to face its death. "They were in debt and they just decided to close their doors," said Dan Henthorn, a New Martinsville resident and alum of Theatre West Virginia.
Henthorn and a host of others who began their professional acting careers at Cliffside Amphitheater did not want to see their characters-and the theatre group-die. "There are so many people who have a passion for this theatre," noted Henthorn. So Theatre West Virginia Act II was created. A new board of directors was formed. They sold their building to pay off the old debt, but the amphitheater, which is part of the New River Gorge National River, still exists.
So beginning July 11 and continuing through Aug. 2, Wednesday through Sunday, the Hatfields and McCoys will take the stage again.
Henthorn is directing the production. Having served as the theatre's artistic director in the early- to mid-1990s, he had originally said he would cast this year's production. Then he decided he'd like to play Randall McCoy again, a role he first played in 1983. Now his involvement has grown to include directing.
Will it be difficult to both act and direct at the same time? Henthorn is confident he is up to the task. "I've always been able to see what's around me," he noted.
As for the cast, Henthorn said with a grin, "I think I have assembled the oldest cast ever for Theatre West Virginia." Usually the actors are college students who are looking for summer work and theater experience. Now the actors are largely school teachers who are alumni. They have the time and certainly the desire to bring their creative skills to the summer stage.
For instance, Sharon Fenwald Chadwick is playing Levicy Hatfield, Devil Anse's wife. She first played that role 30 some years ago. Now in her mid-50s, she is coming back to play the character as the age she was during the depicted time in history.
"She was just thrilled to death to come back," said Henthorn of the actress who is now the state director of thespians in Nevada.
Also returning to West Virginia from Colorado is Bob Athey, who will play the role of Jim Vance. Athey is a 1977 Magnolia High School graduate; he played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar that year at the Lincoln Theater. Since then Athey has countless theatrical credits to his name. In the region, he has directed shows for John Marshall and Wheeling Central high schools. He and his wife, Andrea Peck, also of New Martinsville, had the Cornerstone Theater in Wheeling for a while.
The local connection continues with two theater students from Paden City-students Henthorn has worked with as director of the Paden City High School Thespian Troupe for the past three years. Haley Hizer is going to play Dan's character's daughter, Allifair McCoy, and Travis Leonard will be playing his son, Calvin McCoy. Local theater-goers might remember them from Once Upon A Mattress where Hizer played the princess and Leonard, the king.
Beginning next week there will be 17 opportunities to see these local actors, along with others, bring part of West Virginia's history to life. Henthorn hopes many local residents will make the trip to Cliffside Amphitheater and enjoy one of the performances.
"I think it's important, this season, for people to come out. This is a state treasure, really. It really is a good history lesson," he said, adding, "This year could make or break it."
Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $9 for children under 12. Discounts are available for AAA members and military. Also, Henthorn said Wednesday productions include a special promotion-"Pay What You Want". Half of the proceeds will be split between Theatre West Virginia and non-profit organization of the Beckley area.
For more information on TWV, visit www.theatrewestvirginia.com.