ALPENA – This piece is a pleasant reminder that we all have kindness in common and can work together for good, regardless of our backgrounds, languages or skin color.
Written by F. Andrew Leslie based on the novel by William E Barrett, ‘The Lilies of the Field’, starring many new faces at the Alpena Civic Theater, offers a satisfying look at the relationships that can come from unlikely places and produce life-long rewards.
In his early days as a director, Mark John Hunter decided to embark on a project that was more than just entertainment. And while it offers on the entertainment side, it also makes you think about the possibility of putting aside our differences and coming together for a common good.
“All the actors were chosen very carefully for the roles they play,” Hunter said. “So I’m very happy with their performances.”
Hunter himself is one of the actors, but he’s humble.
“I’m probably the weakest of them,” he said.
“It’s a very complicated piece to put together,” Hunter noted. “It’s more complicated than most Civic Theater plays. So, for a first game, it’s a lot of things to settle.
For example, there are a lot of short scenes and set changes.
“Things have to keep moving,” he said. “A lot of plays at the Civic Theater don’t have a change of scenery. They will have a set for the whole room. In this play, things change behind the curtain. Things happen in front of the curtain. The lighting is very detailed. There are approximately 68 lighting signals.
Hunter designed the set, and some cast and crew members painted and hammered it to perfection.
“I designed the set to be simple and responsive,” Hunter said.
Viewers may be familiar with the 1963 film in which the recently deceased Sidney Poitier played Homer Smith, a demobilized army veteran and devoted Baptist, who travels west to find himself among German nuns.
In the ACT play, which features beautiful musical pieces and a lot of talent, Natanael “Nate” Macean portrays Homer Smith, who feels compelled by a combination of his good nature and a bit of persuasion by the gentle Mother Superior, to fix a leaky roof. The nuns are convinced that he was sent by God. Torn between his need for independence and his desire to help the nuns, he ends up staying longer than he had planned. They feed him, enjoy his company and learn from him, and vice versa. He also entertains them with his melodious voice and enthusiastic guitar playing.
The Mother Superior desperately wants his help to build a chapel, but Homer feels discouraged by the expense and the burden of the task, which ultimately causes him to lose hope and leave, pursuing his independence and solitude.
But Mother Maria Marthe is convinced that he will return.
Is he? Find out by attending “Les Lys des champs”.
The cast of “The Lilies of the Field” are Natanael “Nate” Macean as Homer Smith, director Mark John Hunter as Jose Gonzales, Marilyn Kettler as Mother Superior, Tara Christine Roe as Sister Agnes, Carol Rundell as Sister Albertine, Alicia McMurphy as Sister Elizabeth, Carrie Burch as Sister Gertrude, Matt Southwell as Oliver Livingston, and Jamie Nunez as Father Gomez. Beverly Hunter is the assistant director and does the phonographic voice.
Team members include stage manager Doreen Kriniak, music director Jean Brown Baker, lighting designer Jay Kettler, Scott Edgar on sound design and light and sound technology, Isaac Ayotte as sound consultant, MaryAnn Crawford and Virginia Hulsey on costumes, Eric Hunter as carpenter and Phineas Imhoff as artist.
Mark Hunter is happy with his cast and crew, and is tweaking everything to make it as perfect as possible for opening night.
Of Jamie Nunez, who plays Father Gomez, Hunter joked, “If you know him in real life, you might not think he’d make a priest, but when he’s up there, I was really satisfied, when he tried, with his tone of voice, he can give a lot of compassion in that voice.
All the cast are impressive, from seasoned veterans like Marilyn Kettler, Carol Rundell, and Matt Southwell, to all newcomers to the ACT scene.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to make myself available to represent the ethnic characterization of a Latino person here at Alpena,” Nunez said. “I met Mr. Mark and went over the lines, and we thought it might be a good fit. I’m just really excited to be a part of it. Mr. Mark has done a wonderful job in leadership here, and we’re so excited to be a part of it.
Hunter added that Nunez is also a carpenter and painter and helped with the decor.
“I hope everyone enjoys it,” added Nunez.
Macean was intrigued by the character of Homer Smith.
Portier was originally from the Bahamas, so Macean, originally from the Caribbean, lines up well for this role.
“Homer’s story, in the play, people keep telling him what to do, his whole life,” Macean said. “And I grew up in a culture where people were telling me what to do…and he speaks different languages and has a different accent, and so do I.”
“The character taught himself to play the guitar on his own,” Hunter said. “And Nate learned to play the guitar. And he’s pretty good at it. His performances are excellent. He can wake up an audience, and that’s what he does in this piece.
“I was blown away listening to them learn to sing,” said assistant principal Beverly Hunter. “I know it’s going to be a great performance. I am delighted.
This show offers some heartfelt moments to a comedy worth laughing about, with some drama sprinkled throughout. And when you hear Nate Macean sing in three languages, you can walk away happy. It’s a pleasant evening, that’s for sure. Or in the morning, if you prefer.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sundays April 22-24 and April 29-30 and May 1.
The theater is located at 401 River St. Call the box office at 989-354-3624. Tickets are $15 per adult and $8 per student for all shows.
Hunter wanted to put on a play that would make people, especially the people of Alpena, think about that exact moment.
About Nate Macean
Natanael Macean grew up in Haiti. So how did he end up in Alpena, Michigan?
“I work for a lot of churches as a missionary,” Macean explained.
He noted that the missionary he works with lives in Sault Ste. Marie, so they were looking for colleges for him to get his business degree. Many of the colleges and universities they considered were way too expensive, but then they found Alpena Community College.
“We found nothing,” he said. “We looked at Alpena, and we couldn’t believe it. There’s an accredited community college in Alpena, and they have good programs, and they’re cheaper.
So he’s been here two years now and will be graduating from ACC in May with a business degree.
As for the serious differences between Haiti and northern Michigan, Macean has since adapted to the weather, but he found it quite shocking at first. He wanted to touch the snow, but he was warned that it was very cold.
“The cold hit me so hard,” he said. “But I wanted to touch the snow so badly. They said, ‘You can touch it, but not the yolk!’ But they didn’t tell me why.
He said he didn’t know how to dress in cold weather, so he put on three pairs of jeans.
“But then I had to go to the bathroom, and that’s when the drama started,” Macean said with a laugh.
Upon landing in Detroit, he noticed many people who looked like him, and he felt good about it. But Detroit has a very different demographic than Alpena. As a black man, he stands out in a mostly white community, but he said everyone was very welcoming. He just finds it strange that people ask him certain questions.
“The first thing I want people to understand is the stereotype I face at Alpena,” Macean said. “They ask me ‘Are they treating you well?’ I want them to understand that black people are people too. Even though we belong to a different culture, we are human after all. First.”
He said that true love comes from God, for everyone, and the play depicts this concept.
“If we love each other, that’s enough,” he said. “I want them to see that we are one.”