Staging Steel | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Staging Steel


Get your tickets now! "The Sound of Steel" will run May 13-15 and May 19-21 at the Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy of Fondren.

The Fondren Theatre Workshop is preparing to present "The Sound of Steel," a drama written by longtime Jackson journalist John Webb. The play was selected for production almost unanimously by FTW's eight-member steering committee/board when a segment was performed last year at the Workshop's New Play Project.

The play, set in 1984, centers around two reporters and a civil rights worker that arrive at a fictitious Mississippi prison on the eve of an execution. "The play is a little about the death penalty," Diana Howell, FTW co-founder and producer/assistant director of the show, said. "The characters have their own issues and things to face, and the play is about their own personal story of redemption."

As the show progresses, Howell said the characters "begin to come to terms with themselves and each other."

Johnny Lee Ray, 30, has been convicted of child molestation and murder and is awaiting execution by means of the gas chamber. Art and Sarah, the New York civil rights worker played by Alyssa Silberman, the director's wife, working to save Ray, whereas Jim is all for the execution.

Webb said the idea for the play came to him in the early '80s, after he covered an execution for the Jackson Daily News. "I looked at how caught up I was in getting an exclusive story, and how that ambition had clouded any true compassion. To me, this play is about what can drive the apparent idealist, cynic or activist. It is about projections and reflections and it is also, in some small way, about newspapers," Webb said.

The play's characters and the "careful craftsmanship evident in the dialogue" struck director Gary Silberman when he first read the play. "Working with such a cohesive script and such talented actors has led to the development of characters with real depth. This is a play that speaks to the audience about universal themes such as loss, grief and redemption with passion, eloquence and restraint," Silberman said.

John Howell, a veteran of New Stage Theater and other local theater groups, said the play, set in a rural motel in the Delta, requires a simple stage.

The cast consists of Jacksonians John Howell, Alyssa Silberman, Ron Mills and David Fowlkes of Brandon. All of the cast members have previous Fondren Theater experience except for Fowlkes, who was recruited to the play in mid-April when an original cast member had to back out due to family illness.

Cast-wise, "The Sound of Steel" is the smallest production FTW has put on. Sam Sparks, a Millsaps theater graduate, is the play's production designer and is "in charge of coming up with concept for the set and lights and all technical aspects of the show," John Howell said.

"The Sound of Steel," which lasts about two hours, is the first full-length play that Gary Silberman, of Jackson, has directed. He and Webb met last year at Fondren's new director's workshop.

"We are all about giving new directors a chance. If you never do a play, you'll never become a seasoned director," Diana Howell said.

Webb started writing this play 20 years ago, put it away for a while, and only recently finished it. "Watching Gary and Diana work with it, watching it take shape, has been the learning experience of a lifetime, and I encourage others who want to work as writers, actors and directors to join this terrifically talented troupe, which is bringing fresh energy to theatre in Jackson," Webb explained.

Diana Howell believes that "The Sound of Steel" is "the culmination of the best" of what FTW wanted to accomplish when they set out to establish a theatre community. "We wanted to reach out and make use of all the talents of our members. A well-written play is a very rare thing, and it's an amazing privilege not only to get our hands on such a quality work, but also to be part of developing it and bringing it to life for the very first time," she said.

The play will run May 13-15 and May 19-21 at the Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy of Fondren. The show overflows with hardcore profanity and contains "mature subject matter," so Diana Howell recommends that those 18 or younger not come.

Tickets for "The Sound of Steel" cost $12 for the general public and $9 for seniors, students, and FTW members. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. each night, and because seating is limited, reservations are strongly recommended. For more information about the play, call 601 353-9053.

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