Published Friday, March 08, 2013

Theater accepts script based on John Wallace murder trial

By JOAN DOGGRELL

Special to The Newnan Times-Herald

The Newnan Theatre Company has formally accepted the script for “Flies at the Well,” Newnan writer Jeff Bishop’s play based on the John Wallace murder trial.

Eventually, the play is to be performed in Newnan’s historic courthouse.

Bishop, who was commissioned to pen the drama, was presented with a check by Caroline Abbey, project director; Peter Poulos, NTC board chairman; Paul Conroy, artistic director; and Dave Dorrell, managing director. The presentation was made at the theater company’s annual gala in February.

In June 2010, Abbey, then chair of the Newnan Theatre Company board of directors, spearheaded a project that for years had been a dream: Re-enacting the 1948 Wallace trial in the Coweta County courthouse where the original trial took place. With $20,000 donated by local businesses, including a sizeable grant from CharterBank’s Charter Foundation, Abbey issued a request for proposal that invited interested parties to submit plans for an original play.

A script based on Margaret Ann Barnes’ “Murder in Coweta County” book was not an option because of legal complexities to obtain the rights. So prospective authors had to be prepared to write a completely new drama based on trial records, newspaper accounts and other historical records.

On behalf of Newnan Theatre Company, Abbey received 35 proposals from authors – both local and nationwide. The winning proposal was submitted by Bishop, then a reporter for The Newnan Times-Herald and a historical scholar.

Bishop’s version of the story will be more than a trial reenactment. It will be a full-fledged drama and a musical. More readings and revisions are still in the cards, and the actual production date for the play has yet to be determined.

“We need to see how audiences who know absolutely nothing about the story will react,” Conroy said.

“Musical theater is an American invention,” Conroy added. “It’s our contribution to the world of theater. This is an American story. There have been other musicals about trials in the South, such as ‘Parade’ and ‘The Scottsboro Boys.’”

“Parade,” about the Leo Frank case, was written by Alfred Uhry, author of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

“These shows played on Broadway,” Conroy noted. “So – we have high hopes for this show. We just don’t want to launch it prematurely.”

In other Newnan Theatre Company news, the group is currently about to stage a comedy, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” which opens on March 14.

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