Love leads hopeful men to ‘Widow’s Row’

The young men who dared to attend the party at Magnolia Ellis’ house were ready to take a chance, willing to do anything for love.

Will they make it out alive?

“Well, you’ll have to wait and see,” said Ava Brewster Turner, director and founder of UpStage Theatre. “That’s the surprise.”

To find out, you’ll just have to attend one of UpStage’s performances of Samm-Art Williams’ 2000 play The Dance on Widow’s Row. The theatre opens the first of its four performances of the comedy on Friday, July 12.

The show already has played in Alexandria and will be be going to Shreveport later in July.

“But we’re bringing it back home now so everyone here can see it,” Turner said.

This marks UpStage’s second time to perform this production in Baton Rouge, so some theatergoers may already be familiar with the party at Magnolia’s house.

Magnolia and her four neighbors live on Fremont Street in Port Town, N.C. Their personalities are distinctly different, but they have one thing in common: they’re widows, wealthy widows, who are rumored to have killed their husbands, a collective nine. Magnolia has buried two; her devout-in-name-only Christian friend Annie Talbot has attended four husbands’ funerals. As Bianca Siplin learned when stepping into the role, Annie likes to put on a show.

“She uses Christianity to cover for a lot of things,” Siplin said.

“But I love her. I love playing Annie.”

Shantell Freeman plays Magnolia, considered to be the main character.

“Magnolia is straight-forward, and her intentions are from the heart,” Freeman said. “But if she gets mad, she doesn’t hold back. She’s a big, beautiful personality who reminds me of so many beautiful women in my life, Southern belles whose biggest function is being held in the highest regard.”

Yes, but is she a husband killer?

“Well, it’s a surprise, but I’ll say it’s sort of a take on Arsenic and Old Lace,” Turner said.

Back to Magnolia’s party. She invites four men, one for each of the widows, but only three show up.

“And they know about the rumors,” Leroy London said. “But they’re willing to take a chance.”

London plays Deacon Hudson, a church-going “soldier for the savior.” Hudson also is a widower and doesn’t believe in running around with loose women.

“But he has some needs in his life,” Hudson said.

“He lost his wife a year ago, and he wants a courting mate, someone he can live life with and share good times and laughter.”

And he sees Magnolia as his perfect candidate. That is, before the party comes to an unexpected end.

But you never know what’s going to happen when you’re looking for love, especially on Widow’s Row.

CAST: Kyesolyn Byrd, Simone Jackson; William Farris, Rudolph Spears; Shantell Freeman, Magnolia Ellis; Leroy London, Deacon Hudson; Antoine Pierce, Newly Benson; Bianca Siplin, Annie Talbot; Brittany Tanner, Lois Miller

DIRECTOR: Ava Brewster Turner