By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In the winter of 1937, nine theater students took the stage and produced Joplin Junior College's first-ever play -- a popular 1920s comedy titled "The Patsy."
To honor Missouri Southern State University's 75th anniversary, associate professor of theater Jim Lile has revived this long-forgotten play, which will run Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 9.
"I don't expect much of anyone to have heard of the play, so I'm hoping the association with the 75th anniversary celebration will be sufficient" enough to draw a crowd, Lile said. "(That) coupled with what I hope is just a general reputation of good work (from the MSSU theater department) that we try to foster in the community."
Play a mainstay in the '20s
Back in the late 1920s, "The Patsy" proved more than popular with the theater crowd, with long-running stints in both New York City and London. It became a staple at numerous community and educational theaters over the decades, he said.
"There's some of that feeling of the late 1920s -- that is one of the things I love about this play," Lile said. "But it's a really nice story about relationships and people. I think the characters will be pretty recognizable to our audiences today."
The story focuses on a middle class American family. Two grown daughters and a society-bound mother complicate matters for a rather hen-pecked but hard-working father. The trouble the daughters and the mother put the poor father through lead to some memorable belly laughs throughout the production.
MSSU theater students have had to make some adjustments to the way they normally do things concerning this particular play, because "The Patsy" is more than 70 years old. Still, Lile described the entire process as a "breath of fresh air."
"The dialogue is a bit different because this is a three-act play, which you really don't see anymore," he said. "It's also a very verbal play, so sustaining meaning throughout the play, sustaining interpretation -- even remembering (the lines) -- deserves a bit more focus from the students than a lot of the stuff being written now."
However, "the students are learning that you approach the characters exactly the same way" as you would a play written in 2012. "You have the same sorts of interactions and dynamics.
"Those are some of the things that's drawn me to plays from that period. It's a lot of good language. People have clever conversations, and they say funny things and (generally) have lots of fun. There may be parts that seem a bit creaky to some of our audience, but I hope they get into the spirit of it."
The cast includes seniors Devri Brock, Hunter Dowell and James Zerkel; junior Abby Railsback and freshmen Kaitlyn Hembree.
Also included in the show are three MSSU alumni: retired faculty member Sam Claussen, current faculty member Lyndall Burrow, who serves as assistant technical director for the theater department, and Cassie Lynch, a former theater actor who graduated from MSSU four years ago.
"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice, due to the special nature of this play, to get some of our alumni involved?' and we sure did," Lile said. "We have a very nice alumni presence in the play."
Original cast to be recognized
Another special feature will be the listing of the original 1937 cast inside the program for the new production of "The Patsy."
Original cast members of the 1937 production included Ellen Beasley, Emerson Jackson, Mary Laird, Joan Epperson, Ray Fly, J.R. Grave, Enos Currey, Lola Houk and Bob Fontaine.
Lile has been directing plays at MSSU and Joplin Little Theatre for roughly 40 years, "so I've been at this for a while," he said with a chuckle. "But each play is new. If I ever don't enjoy it, then it will be time for me to do something different. It's always a new adventure with a new group of actors.
"I'm having a fairly good time with this."
Want to go?
"The Patsy" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 9, in the Bud Walton Theatre at Missouri Southern State University. Admission is free for Southern students, faculty and staff; $3 for adults; $1 for senior citizens; and $1 for students. Details: 417-625-3190.