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Maplewood Barn finishes emotional season with hope

Monday, August 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Casey Palmisano, center, who plays Lancelot, defends himself from three guards — played, from left, by Russell Becker, Brad Buchanan and Benjamin Hedrick — during a practice for "Camelot" on Friday at the Maplewood Barn Theater stage.

Not every story ends with "happily ever after." But Mark and Leslie Durrant were happy for a while.

As the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre wraps up its "phoenix season" following an April fire that consumed the barn, the cast and crew of "Camelot" remember Mark Durrant, who died a year ago this month on his way home from rehearsal.

If you go

What: "Camelot," presented by the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre

When: 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27 to 29 and Sept. 3 to 5

Where: Maplewood Barn Community Theatre,  2900 E. Nifong Blvd.

Cost: $10 adults; $8 senior citizens and students with school IDs; $1 children 10 and younger; box office opens at 7 p.m.

What to bring: Blankets or folding chairs and bug spray.


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In memory of her husband, Leslie Durrant is performing with Maplewood for the first time. In the following scenes, Leslie and others remember Mark and offer a glimpse of the struggle the theater has gone through this past year.

                                                              ***

Setting: Maplewood Barn Community Theatre in Nifong Park, dusk. Practice is under way for the musical "Camelot," the final show in the theater's 2010 "phoenix season."

Byron Scott, co-director of this season's musical, stands in a patch of shade as the sun begins its descent.

Scott: A year ago August we were out here, building the set for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," which was our last show last season. Mark Durrant was in the cast, and he was helping build the set.

He was a diabetic. He left about dusk, after we had finished building. He never got home.

Scott lifts his ball cap, wipes the sweat from his forehead, then continues.

We were all out there searching, as were a lot of people. But all the barn people were out here driving the roads.

He had a diabetic crisis, ran his car off the road into a pond. We didn't find him until the next day.

                                                              ***

First-time actress Leslie Durrant, who plays Lady Catherine, chats between scenes with friends. She takes a seat in a folding chair in the grass next to the stage as rehearsal continues.

Durrant: My late husband was very active with Maplewood. He was in about five or six different shows. We've only lived here six years, but he was involved from the beginning because he had done a lot of community theater and high school theater.

I didn't do any theater in high school — I was too shy. I performed as a pianist, but I've never been in a play of any kind.

I finished my doctorate degree in December, so he and I were going to be in a show together this summer — but he passed away last summer. I decided I was going to try it anyway because, you know, life goes on.

We didn't know last summer that they were doing "Camelot," but we knew that they would be doing a musical, so we wanted to try out for a musical together.

I love this show. I love musicals, but I particularly love this one. It's always been one of my favorites. It's such a great story — the whole King Arthur legend, and the music in it is really beautiful.

                                                              ***

Co-director Molly Dodge is seated directly in front of center stage, her usual spot at practice.

Dodge: "Camelot" is just a beautiful show. It shows the versatility of rising above bad situations, which is what the barn is doing now. It shows optimism for the future, and it shows compassion and love. I just think it shows all the wonderful qualities that the barn is. It makes me cry — and we'll be back again.

Tears trickle down her face. She struggles to maintain a smile.

I'm sorry. I'm one of those sensitive people. I cry at Folgers commercials. But this show ... it just shows spirit, you know?

                                                              ***

As other cast members rehearse "The Lusty Month of May" onstage, Aaron Hunsley, who plays King Arthur, paces by himself beneath the trees. He weighs his words carefully.

Hunsley: I grew up here at the barn, and in sense, this theater represents the same thing to me that Camelot and the round table is to Arthur: that this is a place unlike any other, that there was something really important that's happened here over the years.

When the barn burned down, there was something about this town that I think was lost.

Moments pass before he speaks again.

I hadn't intended on doing another show out here, but when I heard they were doing "Camelot," just under the circumstances, I felt like I couldn't resist. This was the part I wanted to play because Arthur said all of the words that I want to say for the barn.

It's after everything's crumbling, and everything's falling apart, that he realizes how special the place that he has created is; that as long as anyone remembers that place, then it isn't really, truly gone.

                                                             ***

Durrant, still in the folding chair, looks up at a sword fight onstage.

Durrant: I came to a lot of performances because (Mark's) health wasn't the greatest, so I was probably here more than a typical audience person because I was watching out for him.

One of the things he always said was that community theater should be for everyone; it should be a cross-section of the community. It shouldn't be people that are all aspiring to be professionals but should be open to people coming who have never done theater before, that sort of thing.

There should be people that are doing it for the first time: ordinary people, that are getting the chance to express themselves, to show their creative side, branch out into something new.

I'm trying to do just that.

                                                              ***

Mark Durrant hasn't been forgotten. His photo hung on the stage in the barn's first production of the season, "Arsenic and Old Lace," and is now on the wall in the dressing room trailer. His initials were temporarily tattooed on the man who played Othello in that production. Even new cast members know his name.

The theater's new stage, built in March, escaped the barn fire with just a few singes. On Aug. 28, it will be dedicated as the "Mark Durrant Memorial Stage." Leslie Durrant and the couple's three daughters will be there to support the theater and community that Mark Durrant loved.


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