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‘Cotton Patch Gospel’

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Members of the cast of "Cotton Patch Gospel" (from left) Chris Wilson, Daniel Thiels, Ross Schexnayder, John Wakefield and John Lee rehearse at Coughlin Saunders Performing arts Center on Wednesday. (Leandro Huebner)

By Jodi Belgard

Husband and wife team Ross Schexnayder and Karen Burns embarked on a do-it-yourself project that the likes of Martha Stewart may find overwhelming.

They each hold bachelor’s degrees in theater from Northwestern State University and after spending a little time on the road, decided to bring their education and experience home to Alexandria.

Last year they formed Lagniappe Theatre Company, the area’s only professional theatre company. In it’s first year, Lagniappe produced four shows – “Smoke on the Mountain,” “Always, Patsy Cline,” “Children’s Letters to God” and “Cenla Christmas Spectacular.”

This year, they presented an encore of “Smoke on the Mountain,” as well as “Peter and the Wolf,” “See How They Run” and “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes” — a touring act about the life and music of country music legend Hank Williams

featuring actor/singer Jason Petty.

But, Lagniappe Theatre’s latest production is the one to put the “Y” in DIY.

“Cotton Patch Gospel” will feature Schexnayder and a band of four local


During the course of the show, Schexnayder will play 21 characters, including Jesus Davidson, John the Baptizer, Simon Peter and Governor Pilate. The biblical references are entirely intentional, as co-creator Tom Key wrote “Cotton Patch Gospel” as a re-telling of the greatest story ever told. Harry Chapin, of “Cat’s in the Cradle” fame, wrote the music.

Burns said she and Schexnayder chose this production because of the

demographics of the area.

“Everybody says they’re in the Bible belt,” Burns said before citing Alexandria’s major religious institutions.

“Cotton Patch Gospel” may seem like blasphemy to the naked eye — after all, Jesus and his disciples are taken from Bethlehem and relocated to rural Georgia and given less than holy names.

But, blasphemous it’s not, Schexnayder said.

“The gentleman who wrote the story is a very respected Bible scholar,” he said. “He just took the story and put it in a vernacular that’s easier to understand. The story would have had just as much meaning if (Jesus) hadn’t been born in Bethlehem. If Simon Peter wasn’t a fisherman in Israel, he’d be a fisherman in Georgia. It makes a story we all know more accessible.”

And, it’s set to the backdrop of bluegrass music performed by locals Chris Wilson, Daniel Thiels, John Wakefield and John Lee.

“I kind of look at it as a one-person show with a backup band,” Burns said.

Burns and Schexnayder find it important to bring family-oriented theater to Central Louisiana.

“We want to provide family entertainment,” Burns said. “We want to give the community something they can bring their kid and there grandma to see.”

Schexnayder said Lagniappe Theatre’s unofficial motto is “You only need two things: your sense of humor and your sense of spirit.”

However, the most important thing for Schexnayder to bring is his sense of


“Playing 21 characters is like jumping off of a cliff and just seeing what it looks like on the way down,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s really just about remembering which voices go where.”


Written by demon53

October 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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