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ART BEAT: 'Murder in the Magnolias' offers genuine slapstick

Murder, mayhem and hysterically funny hijinks are in the offering when New London Theatre presents “Murder in the Magnolias” from Sept. 17 through Oct. 3. Nine performances of the play will be produced in New London facility at 2485 E. Main St. in Snellville.

Twelve actors will depict an assortment of characters: senators, princesses, lawyers, sheriffs, bubbas and other southern “types.” All are involved in a murder on Belle Acres plantation in southern Mississippi owned by Col. Rance Chickenwing and his family. The play was written in 1980, and director Chris Comfort assures patrons it is a family friendly show.

“This is genuine slapstick,” Comfort said. “There are a lot of puns, a lot of physical jokes. It’s one of those plays with so many little tidbits that you could watch it four times and find new jokes each viewing. Plus, it is entertainment for the whole family. The cast consists of all adults, but my father can bring my 8- and 10-year-old to see it, and they will all love it.”

A native of Louisiana, Comfort grew up surrounded by community theater. Her story of finding New London and getting involved is a wonderful example of how grassroots arts can be accessible and rewarding for individuals, families and communities.

“My husband got tickets to New London’s production of ‘Ten Little Indians,’ which is my favorite play,” she said. “I fell in love with it! I then looked up New London Theatre on the Internet and saw their wish list. There were items I could contribute, and I donated them. That was how it started.”

In addition to directing, Comfort is now a member of New London Theatre’s Board of Directors and is in charge of fundraising. She directed “Pride and Prejudice” last spring, guiding 29 actors in a successful telling of this romantic story.

Comfort is especially proud of Nikki Heraghty, a young lady who played a tiny role in “Pride and Prejudice” and a larger role in a summer musical. For “Murder in the Magnolias,” Heraghty has the romantic lead.

“Nikki is an example of how community theater is really about the entire community,” Comfort said. “Anybody can buy a ticket and see something brought in by an elite group. But community theater allows everyone to be a part of the show itself.”

There are also intergenerational amenities to grassroots organizations.

“I have a 17-year-old assistant director who is helping direct actors in their 60s,” Comfort said. “What we do crosses age lines. People of different ages find that they have things in common.”

New London Theatre was once known largely as a training ground for youth to learn theater craft, and those opportunities still exist. The focus, however, has grown to include training adults as well.

“We’ve evolved,” Comfort said. “We realized that theater is something that adults want to do, too.”

“Murder in the Magnolias” will have nine shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 2:30 p.m. Sundays from Sept. 17 through Oct. 3. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $10 for students with ID and $10 for seniors during Sunday matinees. Tickets can be purchased online at www.newlondontheatre.org. For more information, call 770-559-1484.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.