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‘Autumn Garden’ to be performed at Old School

The Canebrake Players are putting the final touches on their latest offering, set to take the stage this Friday and Saturday.

The community theater group in Demopolis will present Lillian Hellman’s “The Autumn Garden,” a story of people in a Southern town looking back on their lives.

The cast includes Kirk Brooker, Chelsea Lavender, John F. Johnston, Rebecca Hasty, Kim Shelton, Dana Eddins, Mike Baker, Jennifer Roeman and Dana Freeman.

“Basically, it’s about people in the autumn of their lives,” said director Audrey Hamilton. “It shows their disappointments, their reflections and their regrets.”

The play takes place in 1949 in a town about 100 miles from New Orleans and centers around a group of people living in the community.

The play is part of the Southern Literary Trail, a collaboration of 18 Southern towns from Natchez, Miss., to Savannah, Ga., celebrating internationally renowned writers and playwrights of the 20th Century who were inspired by their communities. Hellman has roots in Demopolis, as her parents lived here.

The play will be performed at the Old School at Main Avenue and Pettus Street on Friday, March 13 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 14, at 2 p.m. It is the first performance by the Canebrake Players for 2009.

Hellman was regarded as one of the best playwrights in the country in the 1930s and ’40s.

“Hellman openly admitted that her most successful play, ‘The Little Foxes,’ was based upon her Demopolis family,” said William Gantt, the trail’s project director and Demopolis native. “The play’s unflattering depiction of greed and manipulations within a Southern banking family won her national acclaim, but a cold shoulder from her Demopolis relatives.”

Hellman, the granddaughter of Issac Marx, would often visit her family as a child.

Marx was born in Bavaria in 1825 and left Germany to escape legalized discrimination toward the Jews. In 1844, he arrived in Demopolis and would become the patriarch of a family that achieved wealth and national stature, said Gantt.

After the success of “Foxes,” Hellman wrote another play inspired by her Demopolis family with the same set of characters, “Another Part of the Forest,” in 1946. That play received the first Tony Award ever awarded. It went to Patricia Neal, who played a young Regina Hubbard, winning the Tony for Best Newcomer to the Broadway stage. Hellman directed her in the play.

Hellman regarded “The Autumn Garden,” written in 1951, as her best play.