Story: Homer Smith has received his honorable discharge from the Army in 1949 and has decided to see the USA, specifically the American Southwest. He has enough money saved that he can afford to take this scenic vacation, picking up odd jobs along the way for extra cash. While traveling through New Mexico, he happens upon a village where a group of nuns from East Germany lives just outside the city limits, on a hardscrabble farm where they grow their own crops.
They have a roof in need of fixing, and Homer ‘Schmidt,’ as they call him in their fractured English, agrees to fix it in exchange for modest pay. Homer, however, finds that collecting that pay becomes quite a challenge, as the determined Mother Maria Marte cajoles him into doing additional work in exchange for room and board. She also expresses her desire to have a tiny chapel built on their property.
Somehow, the black, itinerant Baptist handyman finds himself staying on and taking personal pride in gathering the necessary tools and materials from Mexican villagers so that the nuns may thrive like “the lilies of the field” described by St. Matthew in his gospel.
Highlights: A gentle and charming fable, Lilies of the Field was a novel written by William Barrett in 1962 that became an Oscar-winning film starring Sidney Poitier in 1963. A theatrical version adapted by F. Andrew Leslie surfaced in 1967.
It’s an old-fashioned yarn that requires attention and devotion to detail, which director Steve Callahan adhered to gallantly for the most part in a recent Kirkwood Theatre Guild production. Solid performances by the cast ensured that Barrett’s morality lesson was given its due in generally appealing fashion.
Other Info: Callahan’s selection of Reginald Pierre to handle the pivotal role of Homer was a most judicious and rewarding one. Pierre has an amiable but determined presence, a combination needed to convey Homer’s generous spirit as well as his pragmatism, and he kept his performance controlled and convincing throughout.
Equally engaging was Kathy Flood Figas as the Mother Superior, Maria Marte. Figas showed both Mother Maria’s stubborn determination as well as her willingness to play Homer like the guitar he strums nightly to entertain the nuns in order to achieve her goal of seeing a chapel rise from the barren plains.
Mark Abels offered an agreeable turn as the amiable village priest, Father Gomez, and Ray Shea was entertaining as Jose Gonzalez, a diner proprietor who befriends Homer. For whatever curious reason, Abels donned dark hair and a mustache to at least offer a resemblance of Hispanic origin, while Shea simply appeared as his Caucasian self. It made little sense, but there it was, anyway.
Sara Rae Womack, Shannon Magee, Ann Hier and Kathryn Weber had fun portraying the quartet of nuns who assist Mother Maria in their obligations, and Robert Doyle was fine in the minor role of an Anglo businessman who overcomes his disappointment at seeing Homer’s ethnicity to help him accomplish the nuns’ dream.
The set designed by Lee Meyer was simple but satisfactorily conveyed the locale, and costumer Cherol Thibaut’s costumes matched the characters. Denise Wade added useful props, including a bathtub confiscated by Homer for the impoverished nuns, John (JT) Taylor provided lighting and Deanna Garcia matched the setting with a sound design flavored with south-of-the-border song stylings.
Lilies of the Field is a slight work but a well-intentioned and pleasing one, particularly in Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s effective presentation.
Play: Lilies of the Field
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theater, Kirkwood Community Center
Dates: Run concluded
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb