Getting to know Sarah

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By Ann Mauzy

“Sarah, Plain and Tall” is an original play based on the beloved, Newbery Award-winning book by Patricia MacLachlan. The story, frequently used in elementary school curricula, was adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette and may be familiar to Hallmark Hall of Fame viewers.

The setting is the early 1900s on a farm in Kansas. The farmer, widower Jacob Witting, played by Scot Johnson, lives with his two children: Anna, age 12 and Caleb, age 7, played by Stacia Paglieri and Sequoya Adams-Rice.

Grown-up Anna (Alice Corrigan) narrates the story on the eve of her wedding. As she says, memories of the past are summoned when people are getting ready for a big change in their lives.

Through Anna’s eyes we see Jacob and his two neighbors talking about how difficult it is for him to manage the farm without help. Larry Gibbons plays the neighbor Matthew Nordstrom, and Roxanne Tapia plays his wife Maggie. Matthew had also been a widower and had found his wife by placing an advertisement in a number of newspapers. In a lighthearted way, he and Maggie urge Matthew to do the same.

As the Nordstrom family heads for home, the girls Rose and Violet, played by Emily Hopkins and Ali Berl, pester their stepmother to tell stories from her native Tennessee. Later, Anna and Caleb talk about how lucky the girls are and Anna misses the songs her mother used to sing.

Caleb asks Anna about their mother. Anna repeats the story of how Mother died hours after Caleb was born and how beautiful Mother thought he was. Adult Anna remembers that she didn’t blame Caleb anymore, but she was still sad that she hadn’t told her mother good night, being jealous of her baby brother. When Jacob tells his children he is advertising for a wife, Caleb is excited, but Anna doesn’t really like the idea.

The scene shifts to Maine, where William Wheaton and his wife Meg have read Jacob’s advertisement in their local paper. The couple is played by Warren Houghteling and Grace Louise. Meg tells her husband that her sister-in-law Sarah should answer the advertisement because although she loves Sarah, she really would prefer to have her house and her husband to herself.

Sarah overhears them, makes her presence known and enters with a big sea bass she has just caught.

Silvie Johnson plays the title role of Sarah. As she strides in with her big fish, we learn that she is independent and capable. After an exchange of letters with Jacob and his family, Sarah decides to visit them for a month “to see how it is.” She writes to Jacob and says she will come by train. “I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall. P.S. Tell them I sing.”

Music is important in the play. It features one original song and several folk songs.

Director Mimi Adams said, “Music binds Sarah to the family and helps to break down the barrier between her and Jacob.” The barrier results from Sarah’s independent spirit, but that same quality wins over Anna when the two go off and swim in the stock pond. Adams and music director Sheila Schifferl have added musical olios, directed by Alison Mercer-Smith, to cover the costume changes in the play and keep young audience members entertained.

“Sarah, Plain and Tall” is suitable for all ages. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday as well as May 15 and 22 and at 2 p.m. Saturday as well as May 16 and 23. Tickets cost $12 for general admission; $10 for students and seniors and are available at CB Fox or at the door. For reservations call 662-3858.