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Theatre Debut: Clyde Edgerton’s novel ‘Raney’ makes it to TheatreNOW’s stage

Love, family, relationships … it’s a trifecta of growth that always will propel human existence. Clyde Edgerton—local writer and winner of encore’s Best Writer, according to our 2015 reader’s poll—wrote about newlyweds adjusting to life together with their respective families and differing beliefs in “Raney.” The Southern tale takes place in 1975 and follows Raney, a Free Will Baptist, and her husband Charles, an Episcopalian community-college librarian, as they embark on their lifelong journey of matrimony. Their contrasts are clear: She’s born into a conservative rural family, while he’s from Atlanta and much more liberally minded. But they bond over bluegrass music and work to rise above their disparate mores and upbringings all for love.

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LOVE WILL FIND A WAY: Kendra Goehring-Garrett plays Raney and Zach Hanner as Charles, Raney’s husband, in the debut of “Raney” at TheatreNOW. Courtesy photo

Adapted by playwright John Justice,”Raney” took over the Cape Fear Regional Theatre stage in Fayetteville, NC, in 1990 and has debuted in numerous venues since. Edgerton met Justice after he reviewed the novel in 1985. The adaptation eliminates many secondary characters, except for Uncle Nate. Justice even took creative liberties by writing new scenes. The focus was to help drive the story into a coherent 90-minute dramedy.

“John asked me to read over drafts of the play and I [offered] tiny suggestions about a word or phrase here and there,” Edgerton tells.
“But the play is his. I was happy to realize he did not try to put the entire novel into the play, but rather pulled out a strand of the story that holds together. He understood that a play or movie is more like a short story than a novel.”

Folks familiar with “Raney” will see some of its memorable scenes, including one of Edgerton’s favorites: when Raney and Charles go to see a “psychiatric.” The fish-hook scene also made the cut. Yet, the real story comes from a place of love amidst Southern allure and nuance, each of which North Carolina born-and-bred Egderton knows well.

“The troubles of young married couples are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and everything in between,” Edgerton tells. “Twas true in the past and will be in the future, for both opposite and same-sex marriages. I think the play touches on the hopes and fears of most couples—old or young.”

TheatreNOW’s executive director Zach Hanner—who graduated from UNC Chapel Hill when Edgerton taught there; he’s now a professor at UNCW—adapted “Raney” from its normal two acts into three acts for a dinner-theatre setting. Directed by Justin Smith, it makes it to Wilmington this weekend (the show was last produced by Opera House Theatre Company in the ’90s).

“It actually worked out really well, as the scenes that end the acts punctuate the preceding scenes,” Hanner tells. Hanner not only adapted the show, he’s taking on the role of Charles Shepherd. “What I love most about Charles is that he honestly thinks he can bring this stubborn, traditional family over to his sensible, pragmatic way of thinking,” Hanner tells. “Of course, once he abandons this notion, things start to fall in place.”

The characters of Charles and Raney each rival the other’s bullheaded world views. While Charles attempts to stand up and confront racist notions that Raney’s family share, his love for his wife goes deeper.

“Raney has the unbelievable ability to call someone stubborn while being stubborn at the same time, which is rather entertaining,” Hanner says. “Anyone new to the South or a recent transplant will completely understand Charles’ reactions to his new in-laws!”

Playing Raney will be Kendra Goehring-Garrett. The actress—well-known for her magnificent vocal range in local musicals—will be taking on a complex character, not afraid to speak her mind. “Raney is spunky,” Goehring-Garrett describes. “She says it like it is; I love that about her. Raney loves her family; she is extremely close to them. She is very Southern, even in her principles. She is strong and also very honest.”

A fan of Edgerton’s book, Goehring-Garrett has grown intimately entrenched in this true-to-life story. More so, the evolution of Raney throughout the play is eye-opening. She essentially grows into a woman throughout the script.

“I am enjoying her, being her, playing her,” Goehring-Garrett says. “Every time I get to tackle a character, I learn something more about myself. I have a little bit of Raney in me already. There are some parts of me I don’t want to always freely admit: I can be stubborn, even a little naïve about certain things.”

Edgerton’s way with Southern dialect is one of the most appealing aspects of his writing. He manages to tackle characters that practically every Southerner will recognize and create familiar scenes that are indicative of this region. It’s part of the Guggenheim Fellow’s appeal as a writer: He draws everyone into this world completely, no corner untouched.

“Clyde and I share similar upbringings and the voices of his family members, captured in the book and script, are much like the voices of my family,” Hanner says. “There are so many little sweet touches, like subbing ‘won’t’ for ‘wasn’t’ and mentioning little Southern things like chow-chow and the proper pronunciation of ‘Camp Lejeune.’ (It’s ‘Camp Le-zhurn.’)”

Yet, the overall story arc remains universal. The struggles of maintaining relationships are not lost; as in most art, they’re what inspire it. “It’s not just the relationship between Raney and Charles that is struggling,” Goehring-Garrett clarifies. “It discusses family struggles.”

Perhaps one of the most intriguing thoughts when reading “Raney” nowadays is looking at Charles and Raney 30 years into their future. Would their differences survive a lasting marriage? It makes Goehring-Garrett ponder.

“Would they celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary?” she asks. “The lover of fairy tales in me would love to think so. But their differences just might be too much. Truly, though, that is not what I think the playwright wanted people leaving to think. It’s an honest look at a married couple, and all of the ups and downs in between. It’s still very relevant, because people are people. Throughout time, relationships will always be a struggle, and as Raney and Charles find out, if you love someone, you make the struggle work.”

Though a straight play, the show will involve musical elements. Goehring-Garrett will sing “Amazing Grace,” and with Hanner (a local musician), they’ll perform the gospel number “Uncloudy Day.” Also a painter, Edgerton’s art will appear throughout the set design.

“Clyde has done a series of paintings thematically based on the novel and some of those will feature in the projection portion of the show,” Hanner tells.

Edgerton also will attend two shows: opening night on Friday, May 8, and the following Friday, May 15. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. both days, wherein Edgerton will read passages from the book, talk about its inception, and he’ll play live music. The stage show will begin at 7 p.m.

“Both nights feature higher-priced tickets, but the added cost ($30 from each) will go to the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County,” Hanner says. Edgerton’s paintings also will be for sale, with proceeds going to the council.

“Clyde and his wife are such fervent supporters of the Wilmington arts scene, and we hope that supporters of the local arts community will come out and enjoy these evenings while boosting the arts council’s efforts,” Hanner tells.

DETAILS: 

Raney

May 8-June 19: Fri-Sat, 7 p.m.
Sundays, starting May 24, 3 p.m.
Events with Clydge Edgerton:
May 8 and 15, 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $22-$38
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th Street
910-399-3NOW (3669)
www.theatrewilmington.com

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