'Only in Louisiana' - Original play at Southeastern gives historic West Florida Revolt a comedic twist
Contact: Rene Abadie
Click on thumbnail for high resolution photo1)2)
1) High school teacher Dr. Beauregarde reads the riot act to students Clarence Widdle, played by Trey Lagen, and Alex Fontenot, played by Megan Cleveland, during rehearsals for “Only in Louisiana: The Not-Quite-True Story of the West Florida Revolt,” which will be performed at Southeastern Louisiana University’s Vonnie Borden Theatre Sept. 30-Oct. 1 with encore performances scheduled Oct. 4-6.
2) Old John, played by actor George Sanchez of Slidell, casts a spell that sets in motion the time travel that sends characters from 1810 to the present and high school students to the past in rehearsals for the Southeastern Louisiana University play “Only in Louisiana: The Not-Quite-True Story of the West Florida Revolt.” The play is an original work written by James Winter and underwritten by the West Florida Republic Bicentennial Commission.
HAMMOND – The history of a famous but short-lived revolution in south Louisiana takes some comedic twists and turns in an original play written by Jim Winter, Southeastern Louisiana University assistant professor of theater.
“Only in Louisiana: The Not-Quite-True Story of the West Florida Revolt” captures the history of the 1810 revolution when armed rebels stormed a Spanish fort in Baton Rouge and liberated the territory from Spain. To tell the story, Winter employs a pair of time-travelling present day high school students who switch roles with a military leader of the revolution.
The play will be staged at Southeastern’s Vonnie Borden Theatre Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. General admission is $15, with senior citizens, Southeastern faculty and staff admitted for $10. Encore performances, primarily for Southeastern students, are scheduled Oct. 4-6 at 7:30 p.m.; general admission is $10, with senior citizens and children admitted for $5. Southeastern students are admitted free with university identification. To reserve tickets, call the Vonnie Borden Theatre Box Office at 985-549-2115 from 10 -2 pm Monday through Friday.
“Only in Louisiana” is the brainchild of historian Samuel C. Hyde Jr., director of the university’s Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies and chairman of the West Florida Republic Bicentennial Commission. The play is the centerpiece of this year’s bicentennial celebration and is underwritten by the commission, which includes representatives from tourism and other officials from the Florida Parishes, the region of Southeast Louisiana between the Mississippi and Pearl rivers extending to the Feliciana Parishes north of Baton Rouge.
“We did a documentary film about the revolt several years ago, but wanted to make a big splash for the bicentennial. And while the play is humorous and takes some artistic liberties, the history is pretty sound,” said Hyde, who served as historical consultant on the script. “Our intent is to pique some interest in this special part of Louisiana history.”
“Most people don’t realize that the Florida Parishes were not a part of the Louisiana Purchase,” Hyde said. “The region remained part of the Spanish Empire.”
A failed effort was made in 1804 to overthrow Spanish authority, with the more organized revolt coming in 1810. A bloody battle wrested control of the region from the Spanish, and the West Florida Assembly elected a governor of the new republic and commissioned an army under Gen. Philemon Thomas. The republic lasted 74 days before being forcibly annexed by the United States.
Winter wrote the play last summer, after being schooled in history of the West Florida Republic revolt by Hyde. To make the complex story work on stage, he chose a “West Florida Revolt meets ‘Back to the Future’ movie” approach -- where events in one era can have serious effects in the next.
“It’s fascinating history with a lot of characters involved,” Winter said. “We wanted to create something for all ages so we decided to have some fun with it, employing time travel techniques. I admit to bending the facts a little, but it’s not designed to be a history lesson; it’s intended to grab some interest.”
Winter admits to being somewhat surprised the commission would go along with a humorous approach to the story.
“The commission was very supportive, and that was apparent from the outset,” he added.
The task of translating the script from paper to stage fell on the shoulders of acting instructor Chad Winters, who directed a cast of more than 30 actors.
The play’s narrator – Old John, played by professional actor George Sanchez of Slidell – is a mysterious gentleman who spans the two eras. He has a personal grudge against Gen. Philemon Thomas, the military leader of the revolt. Old John casts a spell on the two high school students he meets, sending them back to the time of the revolution, while propelling his nemesis, Gen. Thomas, into a present day history class, where he argues with the instructor and basically causes a revolt in the classroom.
“The play goes in extreme directions. Simulating the time travel back and forth from 1810 swamps of Louisiana to a modern classroom was a big challenge,” director Winters said. “We use light and sound to simulate the time travel. We use a lot of spectacle to create this effect.”
A special element in the play will be the playing of the West Republic Anthem, an original piece composed by Southeastern music theory graduate student Brian Hanson. In addition, the set – designed by theater professor Steve Schepker – is considered one of the most extensive ever created at Southeastern.
The cast includes Megan Cleveland of Mandeville and Trey Lagen of Ponchatoula playing the roles of the two high school students, Lee Jeansonne of Covington playing Gen. Thomas, and Matt Kozel of Ponchatoula playing the general’s right hand, Floyd Barrow.
Other cast members include: Devonte Bryant of Amite; Chad Harelson, Kelsey Scott, Hallie Green, Byron Robinson and Brent Larson of Baton Rouge; Mark Bryan of Covington; Ruth Pakunpanya, Derek Alleman and Sarah Callender of Denham Springs; Quinn Kennedy of Folsom; Robert Brandal of Franklinton; Trevor Tomeny of Gonzalez; Jordan Gugliuzza and Adam McAllister of Hammond; Dakota Hill of Holden; Veronica Gutierez and Rodney Washington of New Orleans; Paul Shinn of Metairie; Justin Rolling and James Reeve of Ponchatoula; Mark Hoopes of Shreveport; Jamie Lombardino of Slidell; Paul Wimberly of Pensacola, Fla.; and Santiago Rodriguez of Bogata, Colombia.