Photos of A Tale of Stone Soup
a one-act play by
Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield
text & photographs by
Karen Rose Overholt Critchfield
~ ~ Background Story ~ ~

A Tale of Stone Soup is the title of my one-act play, written for middle school-aged to high school-aged performers, but also well-suited for a cast of adults and children. Set in 13th century France, it could be easily defined as a Christian play, suitable for most Christian education programs. However, references to Christianty and French history are gently incorporated, so that it will fit well into most secular dramatic programs, as well.

The play begins in high summer, with two weary travelers seeking The Sons & Daughters Inn, hoping to find some cool water to drink and a place to spend the night. Upon arrival, they find a friendly innkeeper with a story to tell -- about the time when it was he who was the lonely traveler, and about the stone soup that changed the direction of his life.

The main drive of the play comes from the flashback, which highlights an old weaver, who habitually extends the hospitality of his family campsite to lonely wayfarers, despite local laws prohibiting this. In the course of the play, we see how Old Marc's compassion quietly teaches his extended family the value of sharing.

~ ~ Introductions Are Made ~ ~

At the beginning of the event, director Susan Karas made introductions, welcoming everyone to St. Peter's Church. There were two performances of A Tale of Stone Soup, and the price of admission included a meal of Stone Soup, French bread, cheese, fresh fruit (plenty of grapes), and wine. Also, as a fundraiser, St. Peter's Players sold copies of Our Favorite Soup Recipes, a cookbook designed by the play's author.

The dinner theater atmosphere was enhanced by the use of small tables with checkered tablecloths. The kitchen was staffed by adult volunteers, while other members of St. Peter's Players served as apron-clad waiters and waitresses. The ingredients for the meal came from donations of food -- from St. Peter's Players and local merchants. This recipe of Stone Soup did not add an actual stone to the pot. Instead, as a gift, each guest found a shiny polished stone under his/her bowl.

Above, from Cast 1: Innkeeper Lucien LaValle (played by Matthew Critchfield) introduces his wife Arabelle to the two Travelers. Arabelle has just arrived with a basket of bread and fresh grapes for their evening meal.

To the right and below, the Innkeeper has launched his tale of stone soup, commenting on the conversation of the bells at the end of the day, and setting up the play's flashback, while other Players appear behind him on stage.

In this production, the director chose an alternative to the original plan to have the parade of farmers enter from the rear of the hall via a center aisle. Instead, she had the farmers enter from an aisle at floor-level far stage right. This change allowed more room for the tables, which sat four guests each. Additional changes to the script were made to accommodate a youngster cast as Arabelle in Cast 2, for she used a crutch and could not get up and down the steps easily.

~ ~ The Stage Area ~ ~

St. Peter's Episcopal Church has a small stage at one end of a large basement hall. An observer will see doors at the left and right of the stage, which enter on a few steps that provide access to the stage wings, plus emergency exits. There are several square pillars throughout the hall, which hamper seating arrangements and sight lines. Because the stage is so small, the author utilized the floor space as part of the set design, using the left pillar (at stage right) as the trunk of a tree, and the right pillar (at stage left) as part of the weaver's cottage. A set of portable steps provided easy access to the stage area.

This set design provided many avenues for entrances and exits -- two from each of the wings, plus the two far doors, and the door of the "cottage." Also, the parade of farmers coming in from the fields took advantage of a door at the rear of the space (in a moveable panel wall). This resulted in plenty of space for a large cast of characters to move about.

~ ~ Set Details ~ ~

These three photos show most of the details of the set. Floor level at stage left, you can see the table at the "cottage," and at stage right, you can see a tree stump, which is part of the "campsite under the tree."

The "tree" at stage right and the "cottage" at stage left are not visible in these photos. The treetop was suggested by a length of green cloth draped on a pole suspended from the ceiling (in front of the pillar). The "cottage" consisted of a free-standing door, a flat, and a length of photographer's backdrop paper. The backdrops and flats were made using the same type of paper (different colors) stapled to frames, upon which the scenery was painted.

The author designed an intricate backdrop to depict a small French agrarian community. All the flats were painted in one afternoon by the Players, themselves, as part of their hands-on, thespians-in-training activities.

Above, from Cast 1: Old Marc Bellamy and Matthieu take leave of Young Arabelle, as Young Lucien gets water from the well.

Above, from Cast 2: Matthieu questions Young Lucien LaValle about his life as a soldier of France.

Above and right, from Cast 1: Mayor Lionel Jarreau argues with his extended family about the wayfaring stranger.

~ ~ 18 Speaking Roles ~ ~

By design, A Tale of Stone Soup was crafted for a large cast of characters to accommodate the needs of St. Peter's Players. By double-casting most of the speaking roles, and padding the crowd scenes, the director was able to include 34 children in this project. However, the play could just as easily be produced with a small cast, with several performers playing more than one role.

At left, from Cast 2: Young Arabelle takes leave of sister-in-law Sylvie Bellamy, who reminds her not to forget the grapes Marcel put aside for Old Marc.

~ ~ Awaiting a Response ~ ~

It was the middle of June 2003, when I mailed off my play to be considered by the editor and publisher of New Plays for Children. As of this date, I have not received a "thanks-but-no-thanks" letter, and I guess that is a good thing.

Update: The afternoon of February 7, 2004, I found my manuscript in the mail, along with the "Thanks, but no thanks" letter from the New Plays publisher. A week or so passed by, and then I had the bright idea to submit my play to Hope Publishing Company, which publishes really great church music. My goal was to see if my play could be turned into a musical production, similar to the ones they currently offer. The idea hit me while listening to my son's practice CD for Once Upon a Parable, a musical St. Peter's Players is currently rehearsing. Hope Publishing Company has developed many fine productions for both youngsters and adult casts, and the music is first-rate. And so, in the second week of March, I mailed off my manuscript, and I hope to hear something soon in response.

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