Hunt Larkin Funeral Homes in the fictional town of Winnsboro, Ga., may be one of the few funeral homes in the country staffed entirely by women.
Heddy, Martha Rae, Betty, Louise and June are known in their small town as “The Funeral Club.” These five women approach the business of operating a funeral home with loving care for each client and deep respect for their bereaved families. In spite of their effort, however, they occasionally manage to end up in hilarious situations.
That’s the basic plot line of “The Funeral Club,” a play written by Metter author Richard D. Stafford.
“The Funeral Club” will be presented by Averitt STARS Community Theater in the Emma Kelly Theater on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for box seats, $13 for adults, and $10 for youth. Opening night on Friday is reserved seating, while the other performances are general admission. Call (912) 212-2787 to purchase tickets.
The idea to produce The Funeral Club stemmed from a chance meeting between the mayor of Metter, Billy Trapnell, his wife, Yvonne, and author Stafford. The Trapnells had read and enjoyed Stafford’s novella, The Funeral Club and were thrilled to meet the author in person. When Stafford mentioned that he’d worked the novel into a script, the Trapnells knew that Metter native and theater legend Mical Whitaker was the man to direct a local production.
Once Whitaker read the book, he and the Trapnells presented the idea to the Averitt Center’s executive director, Tim Chapman.
“After reading it, I knew we had to do this play” Whitaker said.
After reading the book himself, Chapman agreed, “The Funeral Club is one of those rare comedies that also tells a serious story.”
In this case, the audience will laugh at the antics of The Funeral Club ladies while recognizing the familiar situation of a small town business trying to stay locally owned and operated in the face of pressure from corporate America.
Stafford said that is intentional.
“I wrote the book to explain what was happening in small town America,” he said. “Also, I used a funeral home as the main business in the story because I wanted people to understand that, especially in a small town, funeral homes are very personal, they function as friends of the families, helping them through their times of grief. It is important that this role remain the same, even as small towns experience growing pains in other areas.”
Grandmotherly Betty, played by Eileen Bayens of Statesboro, puts everyone at ease even in the most strenuous of circumstances. She has owned Hunt Larkin since shortly after World War II.
No-nonsense accountant Louise, played by Gail Davis of Statesboro, has been with Hunt Larkin since its beginning and guards every penny as if it’s her own.
Mortician Heddy, played by Wendy Weinberger of Statesboro, has the “grit of a Marine sergeant’s mother” and has been embalming bodies so long that it’s just routine.
Jamaican-born June, played by Shaunta Ellis-Rock of Metter, has long ago ceased being shocked at Heddy.
And finally, sweet Martha Rae, played by Susan Jackson of Statesboro, is so bubbly and jovial that one barely notices her innate fear of the slumbering “clients” who enter Hunt Larkin.
Whitaker has starred in numerous productions and will perform this April as Hoke in the return of “Driving Miss Daisy.” The local productions he has directed include, “Black Nativity,” “Blessed Assurance” and most recently, “An Evening with Langston Hughes.”
Stafford will be present for a question and answer session after the play on opening night. Audiences will be able to purchase copies of three of his books: “The Funeral Club,” “Beyond the Beach” and “Stories for Fathers and Sons.” Stafford is donating all profits from book sales to benefit the Averitt Center for the Arts.