Observations from a Porch of an Aging Southern Farmer

“Aging is a process of understanding.?It is the collective journey of all emotion fed by a thirst for knowledge, enlightenment and meaning.”

It was a hot Southern morning in the heart of August in the Carolinas.? Humidity was already taking a toll on old Mason.? Sweat dripping from his leathery forehead and the sun up in the sky high enough to cover half the front porch.? His wife, who affectionately has called “ma” for the last 67 years was bringing a steaming cup of coffee; black just like he always drank it.

Mason nodded and continued his stair at the trees covering the sun just enough to make these summer days bearable.

“I reckon the farm hands be coming by soon.? Strange seein’ them whites and coloreds walking the path together.? Sure seen some changes round these parts.”

Mason turned to ma, resting comfortably in her rocking chair continuing to deepen the groove in the wood base below.

“This some good coffee ma.”

He struggles with his sentences now.? Some shortness of breath forces a slowing in his speech.? The deep southern drawl very pronounced.? For this old farmer, now retired, the porch is passing the time reflecting on a hard life until his inevitable demise.? The years are documented by the wrinkles under his eyes.? The blue sparkle now faded.

The creaking noise is soothing.? It is one of the few sounds still audible to Mason.? Familiar and constant.

“The cotton crop ain’t what it used to be.? Nothing but Yankees, colored and fancy cars.? It’s hard to be proud ma.”

“You are an old bitter man Mason Chapman.? Old and bitter.” She exclaimed.

Once, an affluent cotton farmer, Mason is the only remaining child of Emma and William Chapman.? The youngest of seven children, his heart beats last.

“What will we leave behind ma when they find our crippled old bones?”

“What are you talkin’ about, we?”

With all the muscle strength in his face, a smile reared itself.

“I gave you a good home didn’t I ma?”

“You did.? From the time you carved our names in that oak tree 68 years ago, my heart belonged to you.? You give me a good home and a good bed to rest.”

“I’d like to see Will today.? Reckon we can see Will?”

“Yes, love, yes.”

Mason tried to life his body with his thin boney hands.

“Now you stop you hear.? You will break in two.”

Ma got up from her rocking chair and lifted her 110 pound Mason upright.? Arm in arm they walked slowly down the three steps and walked to the side of the house.? Surrounded by layers of autumn colored leaves and pine cones stood a small unassuming tombstone.

They stood two feet from the stone and stared down.

“Oh Will boy, we miss ya.? You dun us proud.? We really miss ya being around.? He was a good boy, ma.? A good boy.”

“He was.? Polite, hard workin’ and a true Southern gentleman.”

“He was, ma.? He was.? I may be ready to see him soon.”

“You hush up Mason.”

“I’m tired.? I see folks walk by, young and full of hope.? I had my hope.? Now I’m ready to rest.? Let’s go back to the porch.? It’s safe there.? I’ll tell ya about the great crop of ’52.”

“I’d like that.? I’d like to hear that story a lot.”

Together, hands intertwined like a million other times, Mason and Ma walked around the house and sat on the porch.

The chairs rocked, and Mason told story after story until the warmth of the sun lulled him to sleep.

Ma smiled.

A Message of Hope from Dock Street’s The Diary of Anne Frank

Your journey begins with an exquisite set design inviting you in with a bed of tulips in the forefront and a cramped shelter with the walls and floors covered in the writings of a thirteen year old dreamer.? The back center wall is a soft and heartfelt black and white image of Anne Frank.? Before the first words are uttered, the audience becomes part of a two year struggle for survival.? Surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, these eight children and adults from different backgrounds and lifestyles endured starvation, alienation and potential death.? At the heart of situation was a young, energetic young lady named Anne Frank who shared her experiences with the world through her personal and candid observations during this period of hiding.

Played with poise and emotional strength by Lila Clark, a freshman at Academic Magnet High School, Lila brought a air of innocence, warmth, hope and optimism to the stage.? Her portrayal of Anne was highlighted by the many layers she exposed during her performance.? Throughout the live production, you witnessed a young lady with the same dreams, boyhood crushes and imagination as any young boy or girl, but her situation was unlike any other.? Throughout the performance, she brought a level of energy and complexity that complimented the acting troop and comforted the audience who watched fully aware of the impending tragedy.? Her playful demeanor and mature observation of the world around her was played elegantly.? As we moved toward a bitter climax, we never lost site of hope as we witnessed her first crush, her nightmare episodes and her dreams to dance and travel to Paris.

Victor Clark gave an exceptional portrayal of the? role of Otto Frank, the grounded and calm father and business owner.? His ability to absorb all the chaos and maintain a sense of order was a gift on stage.? His relationship with Anne and ability to internalize all his fears provided salvation to the rest of the residents who hid in silence for over two years.

In the background the sounds of sirens and planes built up the tensions and inside the cramped quarters, the eight Jewish survivors waited, starving not knowing if they would live or die.

The Diary of Anne Frank as told by the Dock Street Theater, was not a story of Nazis and Jews (though a flag of Europe and Asia with a swastika was ordained on the back wall), good versus evil or coming of age.? It is a story of family, hope and love.? One of the greatest tragedies of this story is that a young girl, intelligent, loving and full of dreams was taken from us.? In her foresight, Anne wanted to leave behind a reminder of not just her life and struggles, but all those that fought to stay alive.

Anne Frank was the biographer of a generation lost and never truly got to see the importance of her words.

As the story begins, we see a black and white image of Anne center stage on the back wall.? Her father walking through the hidden shelter one final time after the war had past and the survivors were released from the concentration camps. ? Along with a scarf and glove on the floor, he finds Anne’s journal.? For the next two hours, we are taken through those pages, feeling the pain Otto felt being the last survivor.? During a Hanukkah scene in December, 1944, Otto recited the Hanukkah prayers on the first night.? One candle representing his future, alone without family.

The supporting cast contributed well depicting the anger and anticipation.? Complimented by Steve Fordham, who has been a fixture in the community as a long time actor, playing Jan Dussell, Benjamin McCoy as young Peter Van Daan, Maddy Seabrook as Margot Frank, Andrea Rausch and Kent Reynolds as the Van Daan’s and Beth Curley as Edith Frank, the mother of reason trying to understand why this madness was happening all around.

The strength of the performances of Lila Clark and Victor Clark to some extent minimized the contributions of the supporting cast, but overall, the actors played off of each other well and provided an excellent interpretation of Anne Frank’s writing.

The direction of the play by Julian Wiles was artistic and respectful.? By creating separation points throughout the stage and panning light on the key scenes, he could capture the essence of the quarters and still provide direction to the audience on the emphasis of the scene.? Whether it was Anne writing at her desk or a hug from her father after a nightmare, the soft lighting with the backdrop of darkness let us be part of something intimate.

This is an personal story told from the heart of a teenage girl.? Even in the end, she never stopped believing and hoping.

In a time of adversity, we have one thing that can keep the heart strong and that is love.? Anne Frank has taught millions of people that lesson in the last 70 years since her passing.? Dock Street used gentleness and dignity to interpret her words and bring them back to life.

?The Diary of Anne Frank will be playing at Charleston Stage at Dock Street February 11 – March 1 – Tickets