Sumter Players are coming home this weekend!

Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Sumter Players are coming home this weekend. Home after an 18 month hiatus imposed by COVID.  Home to the Rylander Theatre.  Home with Driving Miss Daisy, the much-loved play written by Georgia native Alfred Uhry. Uhry’s Pulitzer prize winning play — the first of his “Atlanta Trilogy” — is a fitting opening to the Sumter Players’ 2021-22 season.  Directed by Jaclyn Campbell, the touching, funny, and, at times, tragic relationship between Miss Daisy Werthan and her chauffeur, Hoke Coleman, exemplifies the season’s theme:  Everlasting Friendship and Invincible Courage. In the words of the director, “this play celebrates unlikely and unexpected friendships and how much they can enrich our lives. It is also a story that deals with the challenges of aging. I’m so excited to be a part of the return of live theater to the stage at the beautiful Rylander Theater.

It has taken invincible courage to survive COVID, as the Sumter Players were forced to abandon their production of Dream Girls in March 2020, which was supposed to open the day after Governor Kemp ordered the lockdown.  Like many community theatre groups, they transitioned to virtual and — eventually — open-air productions.  But as of this Thursday night they return to their long-standing home, the beautiful, historic Rylander Theatre, which celebrates its centenary this year.  And, happily, they return with a production starring Sumter Players veterans and long-standing friends.  Miss Daisy Werthan is played by Rachel Price; Hoke Coleman, her chauffeur, is played by Donovan Smalley; and Boolie Werthan, Daisy’s son, is portrayed by A.J. Bailey.  These actors exemplify the commitment that has defined the Sumter Player throughout its nearly sixty-year history.  All three are veteran participants: Rachel’s first production was 2004’s Oklahoma; Donovan has appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, A Raisin in the Sun, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and AJ has appeared in Southern Fried Funeral, To Kill a Mockingbird, Man of La Mancha, and Motherhood Out Loud.   In fact, in the 2019 production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Rachel and AJ played a married couple; this time around, they’re mother and son!

All four are entrenched Americus residents. Jaclyn, who came to Americus as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in 2002, is now a teacher at Furlow Charter School.  Her first production with the Sumter Players was A Christmas Carol (2004), and she makes her directorial debut with Driving Miss Daisy. Rachel is the owner/operator of GBR Family Cleaning and lives in Americus with her husband and son.  Donovan, a graduate of GSW, now works in the GSW Admissions Department and also serves as the Sumter Players’ Vice-President of Production.  AJ, born and raised in Americus, is also a graduate of GSW. AJ spent some years in Greenville, SC, where he was cast in the Upstate Shakespeare Festival in As You Like It  and Julius Caesar.  While in Greenville, he was also part of the Alchemy Comedy Theater company, AJ now shares his talents with the Sumter Players both as an actor and a director.

Sumter Players has survived COVID and continues to thrive because of community members like Jaclyn, Rachel, Donovan, and AJ.   Their commitment to sharing their talents with the people of Americus makes the Sumter Players an important part of the vibrant art scene in Americus.  AJ Bailey says it best: “theater matters to Americus… it should be part of  the growing Americus art scene of glass blowing, culinary sophistication, and music.  Theater should be a part of that because it excludes no one and studies show that when a town has a flourishing arts scene, tourism increases and towns economically prosper.”  Welcome home, Sumter Players!