ACT takes on play by local author

Photo Courtesy of Bronwyn Woolman Appearing in Alpena Civic Theatre’s production of “The Big House at Holy Hollow” are, from left, Rick Mesler, Mia Hauff, Bruce Michaud, Sharon Shiemke, Allan James Grund, James Phillips and Rosina Phillips. The show opens Thursday for a two-week run.

For its first show of the new 2017-18 season, Alpena Civic Theatre opted to take a chance on a local playwright.

Allan James Grund of Atlanta penned “The Big House at Holy Hollow,” a warm-hearted story of love, friendship, faith and fly fishing. He also stars as the main character, Roy Hickok, who he said just happens to be his alter ego.

The show opens Thursday for a two-week run and features a cast of seven, many of them familiar favorites on the ACT stage.

Grund started out several years ago collaborating with Sue Floer on comedy skits at Brush Creek Mill in Hillman. Their work was well-received by audiences there, but he wasn’t satisfied to only do comedy skits.

“I had become intrigued by what could be done on a very small stage besides live comedy, and Sue was looking for live theater in Hillman,” Grund said. “We started putting our ideas together and came up with Roy and Ethel Hickok. I fell in love with the two characters and started writing scripts, but they weren’t going anywhere because I didn’t have any place to do them.”

Ultimately, he did his first 90-minute show, “Fast Water Over Slippery Rocks,” last year at Thunder Bay Theatre, where TBT signed him to a contract.

Then came “The Big House at Holy Hollow,” which the show’s director, Scott Edgar, initially traveled to Brush Creek Mill to find out more about. After seeing a few scenes from the play performed live, Edgar decided it was something he wanted to bring to ACT.

As the show unfolds, times are hard for Roy and his wife, Ethel, since a tornado came through and destroyed their peach orchard. Ethel is famous for her peach pies and Roy has written a gospel song he believes can sell. He’s been dreaming about success all his life but hasn’t made it yet.

The two are joined by a group of friends they have known since grade school. Together, they cope with day-to-day life and learn the basics of friendship and forgiveness.

When it came to taking on the role of Roy, Grund said it wasn’t something he’d necessarily planned.

“I think Scott was having a hard time getting someone else to play Roy,” Grund said. “All my friends said, ‘You have to do it. You are Roy.’ So here I am. I don’t pretend to be an actor.”

Playing opposite him as his wife, Ethel, is Sharon Shiemke.

In perhaps a bit of type casting, Bruce Michaud appears as Rev. Jimmy Hawks. This isn’t the first time that Michaud, a retired Trinity Episcopal Church rector, has played a preacher. At last count, he’s appeared on stage at least four other times as a minister, including as Rev. Jeremiah Brown in “Inherit the Wind” and Father John Mulcahy in “M*A*S*H,” both at Alpena Civic Theatre, as well as two seasons as Rev. Hooker in “Dearly Departed” at TBT.

Other performers featured in “The Big House at Holy Hollow” are Mia Hauff as Winnie Hawks, Rosina Phillips as Betty Sue Champion, James Phillips as Major Keyes and Rick Mesler as Will Cavendish.

Ted Rockwell, who is serving as assistant director under Scott Edgar, said the cast is outstanding and the play is one he believes audiences will enjoy.

“It’s a really neat play with a lot of different aspects to it,” Rockwell said. “It’s about disagreements and forgiveness. It’s about friendship. It’s about the love between Roy and Ethel.”

The show also carries an element of faith to it, but Grund said he didn’t intend for the faith message to be a preachy one.

Besides the director and assistant director, other production team members include Maryann Crawford as costume designer, Debby Edgar and Jackie Grulke as stage managers, Rockwell and Jay Kettler on lights. Rockwell and Edgar also did the set design and the set construction, along with set construction assistance from Tom Robson. Scenic artists included Grace Morrison and Sue Floer, along with Edgar and Rockwell.

Run dates for “The Big House at Holy Hollow” are Oct. 19-22 and Oct. 26-29 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the box office at 354-3624.