As far as Lou Bessie is concerned, it’s all about her.
She’s in control, and she wants what she wants. She also wants to control what she really doesn’t want, which, in this case, is Husband Witherspoon.
Husband is the name given to him by his mother. He took care of her until her death back in Frogmore, S.C. He loved her, but he also loved Lou Bessie.
And Lou Bessie had no interest in living in a small town. She dreamed of the big city, of moving to Harlem, of being someone else besides Lou Bessie.
So she turned down Husband’s marriage proposal and moved to Harlem, where she changed her name to Charmaine.
“But Husband’s mother has died, so now he can follow her to Harlem,” Jesse J. Osborne said. “He wants to marry her and take her back to South Carolina,” he said. But Lou Bessie is having none of it.
Osborne plays Lou Bessie in UpStage Theatre’s production of John Henry Redwood’s The Old Settler, which opens Saturday, Feb. 9. The theater company first performed this play in 2008.
“We usually go in a five-year cycle,” Ava Brewster Turner said. “Our goal is to bring Baton Rouge audiences the highest quality of work possible.”
Turner is UpStage’s founder, as well as director of this play, which is set in 1943. Lou Bessie may be a dominant voice in this story, but the true focus is on the character of Elizabeth, played by Brittany Turner.
“She is mild mannered, and she avoids confrontation,” Turner said. “She doesn’t say anything until she’s pushed to her limit. Elizabeth is labeled “The Old Settler” by Lou Bessie, who makes light of the fact that Elizabeth has never been married and has never had a true romantic relationship with any man. Elizabeth lives in Harlem with her sister, Quilly, whose life is opposite of Elizabeth’s. But circumstances force Quilly to move in with her older sister, and Quilly objects when Elizabeth advertises for a boarder.
Quilly is played by Elizabeth Ervin. There is a definite sibling rivalry between the two sisters, the source of which is the story’s twist.
Now, to learn exactly what that twist is, audiences will have to attend at least one of UpStage Theatre’s four performances.
“We’re doing something different this year,” Turner said. “We’ve had such a good response to our shows, that we’re adding a fourth performance on the following Sunday to give everyone an opportunity to attend,”
And here’s where the story unfolds, where Husband answers Elizabeth’s ad for a boarder, where a sweet May-December romance blossoms between the two.
Antoine Pierce plays Husband. “He’s innocent, and his love is misplaced,” he said. “He loved his mother, and he’s looking for a mother figure, and Elizabeth fits.”
Husband’s intentions aren’t to hurt Elizabeth. In fact, he really believes he’s fallen in love with her. Never mind that she is in her 50s and he’s, well, young. And his innocence attracts her.
But Quilly objects. And then there’s Lou Bessie.
Again, Lou Bessie is the kind of person who loves the spotlight. No matter what, it’s always about her, and she makes her feelings known.
She doesn’t want Husband, but she doesn’t want anyone else to have him, either. And she has no problem taunting Elizabeth about age differences and inexperience.
“Lou Bessie wants to control everything,” Osborne said. “But I love her. She’s so different from me, which makes it fun to play her,”
The Old Settler not only is Osborne’s first UpStage play but will be her first time on stage. Tanner, Pierce and Ervin are UpStage veterans. “And Elizabeth is a lot like me,” Tanner said. “I don’t like confrontation, either. She’s mild-mannered, and I’m a lot like that.”
The story is packed with comedy and drama driven by the force of strong characters.
And though Lou Bessie would like it to be about her, Elizabeth stands in the spotlight as audiences learn exactly why she is the Old Settler.
- CAST: Brittany Tanner, Elizabeth Borny; Elizabeth Ervin, Quilly McGrath; Antoine Pierce, Husband Witherspoon; Jesse Osborne, Lou Bessie Preston
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Ava Brewster-Turner, director; Leroy London, technical director; William Farris, stage manager; Barbara Oliver, costumes; Maddgame Entertainment, publicity.