by Lorie Lewis Ham
This year Reedley’s River City Theatre Company is celebrating their 10th anniversary and bringing back some of their earlier shows. One of those shows is a play entitled The Valentine, which opens this week at the Reedley Opera House.
The Valentine was written by Denise Norwood, who is the wife of RCTC artistic director Mark Norwood, and very involved with the theatre company herself as well. According to Denise, she wrote the play in 2003 because Mark, in an effort to bring theater to the Reedley Opera House, needed to put together a season quickly. After checking out another play they were considering that they decided didn’t really work for a Reedley audience, Denise says she told Mark, “I’ll write you a play,” and she did just that.
Denise chose to write the play originally under a pen name so it could succeed or fail on its own. “I also did not want the cast to be affected adversely by feeling protective of me. It was beyond gratifying and thrilling to quietly witness the strong and supportive reaction of both cast and audience. There was much laughing through the tears, and The Valentine is now our most requested title. So this time around I proudly use my real name with gratitude for the opportunity to write this piece, and to do so for my wonderful husband.”
Denise stated that the plot bares some resemblance to that of The Notebook, though it was written before that. The plot celebrates the lifelong friendship and romance between Stuart and Louise. They meet in the fourth grade when their teacher assigns them to each other to write a valentine letter. They are initially and age-appropriately annoyed at each other (and the assignment), but decide to keep writing as their level of interest in their commonalities and differences ignites. They also discover a mutual love of writing letters, which they do throughout their long life together. The stirrings of attraction begin in their early teens, and they go on to share a long and emotionally rich life. They meet during the Great Depression, and live and love throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars, the 1960’s, and on. The play is entirely the reading of the letters between them. The two characters are portrayed at different ages by multiple actors.
The Valentine is based on true events and is inspired by Denise’s parents who, like the characters in the show, met in the fourth grade and went on to have a long marriage. “My father was in Korea for two years and wrote to my mother every single day, no exceptions. He was a technical writer for the military, and he passed his love of writing, and especially his love of writing letters, to me and to my daughter. The Vietnam plot twist is gleaned from a true event I shared in with a friend from college, and the extraneous characters are based loosely on my family members. I did not have to ponder much or agonize over plot, I just allowed the hilarity, tragedy, triumph, and beauty of Stuart and Louise to come through my father’s pen held in my hand. I got lucky.”
While the first time around Denise simply wrote the play and handed it over to Mark, this time around she is directing the show as well. The original cast included Susan McFall and her two nieces Selah and Keilah, and four members of the Chapa family: Father Hector Sr and three sons, Hector Jr., Frankie, and Jesus. Emily and Brandon Huebert also performed with the original cast. None of the same actors are in this production. The current cast is Evan Leal, Elicia Balladerez, Brooke Hager, Steven Balladerez, Stacie Hall, Chris Borden, Denise Norwood, Mark Norwood, and Kishma Morales. “We have amazing and dedicated understudies also,” said Denise.
The Valentine runs from April 19 to May 12 on stage at the Reedley Opera House. Because The Valentine involves both the Korean and Vietnam wars, RCTC is offering Veterans groups and their guests a significant discount in ticket prices. You can get more information on tickets, and the Veterans discounts, by contacting RCTC at 638-6500. Tickets can also be purchased on their website and you can also get more info on their KRL event page.