By Sherry Lucas
When a namesake theater troupe returns to home grounds this week, Fondren Theatre Workshop (FTW) closes several circles — creative and geographic.
It marks FTW’s first production back in the Fondren district since Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” in Fondren Park in May 2014.
FTW mounts Jerome Bixby’s provocative science-fiction work “The Man from Earth” on the back porch of the historic Cedars in weekend productions through Sunday (Oct. 25-28) and Nov. 2-3.
It’s a setting FTW co-founder and the play’s director/producer Diana Howell envisioned the first time she and John, husband and FTW co-founder, saw the drama — a cult classic — more than a decade ago.
Bixby’s credits include “The Twilight Zone” and several classic episodes from the original “Star Trek” TV series as well as “Fantastic Voyage.” “The Man from Earth,” a screenplay first conceived in the 1960s and completed by Bixby on his deathbed in 1998, was made into a shoestring-budget movie in 2007, directed by Richard Schenkman.
In the story, a farewell party for a university professor goes sideways when he reveals that he’s walked the earth for centuries, and must move every decade tor so to escape detection. The tale is tough to swallow, but as the evening wears on and his peers quiz him from their academic perspectives and beliefs in biology, art, anthropology, history, psychiatry and religion, emotions run high and reactions are mixed.
John had seen the title on a list of must-see sci-fi films, Diana says. “He ordered one we watched it, and fell in love with the story,” she says. It’s a long conversation that unfolds in real time, with an intriguing premise: someone born at the dawn of man, living through the millennia and witnessing history firsthand.
“What does that mean, for both him and humanity, and what challenges would that throw at him?
“This is the kind of theater I really love,” Diana says. “I love theater that makes me think, makes me question. That’s why i fell i love with the story in the first place. I loved it so much, I actually tracked down the producers of the movie, to find out if it was available as a play. … The stars finally aligned seven years later, to do it.
“I hope the weather aligns, too,” she adds with a laugh. The production will occupy the Cedars’ “back porch stage” with seating outdoors. There will be folding chairs, but blankets, lawn chairs and picnics are encouraged. Performances may be moved inside in case of inclement weather; patrons can come inside and watch, come back for a subsequent performance, or both. The one-act play comes in at under 90 minutes; there’s no intermission.
Returning to the Cedars closes one more circle, and nudges some deja vu for FTW, founded in May 2013. FTW’s forerunner, Renaissance Theatre Workshop, had its first production at the Cedars, before Fondren Renaissance even owned the building and efforts to get the Cedars on the National Register of Historic Places were underway.
“The Man from Earth” tickets are $15/$10 students/seniors/military with ID, online at brownpapertickets.com. The Nov. 3 performance will feature a special reading of the Bixby short story on which his “Twilight Zone” episode was based.