By the time you read this, the play will have "gone dark" as they say in show business. You may not have had the opportunity to see one of the finest amateur theater troupes anywhere perform one of the funniest and most touching original plays you can imagine. It had everything: history, laughter, love and intrigue, and every character was "spot-on" -- so believable, you wanted to invite them to Sunday dinner. It was a Hoot and a Holler, and deserves to be done again and again. But only a relatively small number of people will know what I am talking about.
It was simply called, "Zane Grey Mystery Theater," and was written and directed by Kathleen Kelly, a local resident with a huge talent. Mrs. Kelly is a former actress and singer and knows her way around a stage as well as anybody, anywhere. The play was part musical, and the singers were wonderful. The acting was superb -- so real, it didn't seem like acting at all. The timing was clean and the pace was just right. What more can one say? Well, let me just say here: There is a huge opportunity here for the town of Payson to attract summer crowds to a "Payson Summer Theater" if someone or some group will step up and find a permanent venue for this kind of thing. This particular play could easily be the cornerstone for wonderful live theater every year.
The play was performed in a dining room of the Main Street Grille and was done to raise money for the Northern Gila County Historical Society for the 125th Payson Anniversary. Later, it was repeated at Green Valley Park, as a gift to the town. Every actor donated his or her talent, as did Mrs. Kelly and her husband, Jim, who is an accomplished musician. Jim provided the music and performed several parts himself. Main Street Grille is to be congratulated and thanked for their generous participation. Payson Parks and Recreation deserves kudos, as well. If there were a legitimate theater here in Payson, this would have been an ongoing sellout, week after week.
Summer Theater is a mainstay in the East. The Catskill Mountains of New York State, in particular, are renowned for attracting famous actors from around the world to a series of great theater each year. It is also a wonderful training ground for actors and musicians from Broadway to Hollywood and beyond. In North Carolina, there is an outdoor theater that has repeated performances of a play called "Unto These Hills" for years, and still attracts sell-out crowds. It's a natural. It's a summer ritual in many places. Why not here?
You want a reason to attract folks to come and stay in Payson? You want to boost the restaurant business and enhance local shops? You want a training ground for local young folks to develop and hone a skill? Summer Theater here in the cool pines is one fantastic opportunity just waiting to happen! Where else in Arizona is it being done?
I rarely gush. I consider myself a mature, somewhat experienced individual. I know the pitfalls and the struggle of starting a new enterprise as well as the next fellow, but I gotta tell you: this has huge potential, especially if the level of talent and dedication can continue on anything like what I saw this weekend. Like many of you, I have seen excellent theater -- sometimes paid dearly to do so -- but I have never enjoyed myself more than watching -- participating in -- this wonderful enterprise. If it is allowed to "go gently into that good night," then shame on all of us.
Mr. Mayor and Town Council, I urge you to proclaim "Zane Grey Mystery Theater" as deserving a Gold Star or whatever can be awarded, for reflecting the best of volunteer citizenry. Further, I urge you to find a way to make this concept an ongoing attraction for tourism in Payson. Find a place, and they will come. Make it an "Old Timey" dance hall with a rinky-tink piano and "Follies Girls." Bring back some Vaudeville. Let local talent lead the way -- there is plenty of professional-grade talent here. A Summer Theater Series, with good publicity, will bring crowds up from the hot Valley to stay in our cool mountain accommodations and utilize our local businesses. You want UNIQUE? This is it.
You, who are reading this column, both of you, spread the word.