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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951)
A barking dog, an angry man, a woman with a gun in a small town: the ingredients for a Faulkner novel and the unlikely foundation of a long-term friendship.
Long before Angela Correll and Heather Henson met as seventh graders at Danville’s Bate Middle School, they had both heard the story. On an evening in July 1915, Angela’s great-uncle, Robert Crouch, went next door to complain about the dog barking and an argument ensued. Heather’s great-grandmother, Hattie Henson, then pulled out her pistol and shot him through the heart, a crime for which she was sentenced to three years in the hoosegow.
“The final night of the show [July 18] will mark the 100th anniversary of the shooting,” said Correll. The “show” is this year’s Kentucky Voices production, Grounded, based on Correll’s 2013 novel, at Pioneer Playhouse, which has been operated by the Henson family for 65 years.
“Yes, we had both heard the story dozens of times,” Heather said. “I think we’re both agreed that there was probably more to it than a barking dog.”
Flash forward to 2014. Angela and her husband, Jess, the founder and chairman of First Southern Bancorp in Stanford, were attending The Wonder Team, a play about Centre College’s 6-0 upset of Harvard’s football team, written by Heather’s brother, Robby, an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. During the opening announcements, Heather, the Playhouse’s managing director, spotted the Corrells in the audience and off the cuff quipped, “Maybe we’ll make a play out of your book someday.” A year later, that’s exactly what’s happened.
Heather followed up on her quip a few weeks later, contracting with New York playwright Chelsea Marcantel to adapt Grounded, the story of Annie, a New York City flight attendant whose life takes some unexpected downturns until she’s forced to reluctantly return to her family’s Kentucky farm.
“It’s a story that resonates with so many people,” Angela said. “Kentucky has a magnetic pull, and it has a way of pulling people back to their roots. I think it probably resonated with Heather even more than it does with me. She lived in New York, and the farthest I’ve lived away from home is Georgetown [for college]. I did live and work in Lexington, but now I’m literally 8 or 9 miles from where I was born [Garrard County] and where I grew up [Danville]. Heather returned from New York to the family farm, much the way Annie does in the book.”
Previous Kentucky Voices offerings include Catherine Bush’s A Jarful of Fireflies, which focused on Danville and the MGM production of the 1957 film Raintree County; The Infamous Ephraim, a play by the late Holly Henson about the life of pioneer surgeon Ephraim McDowell; and three by Danville’s Elizabeth Orndorff—Death by Darkness, a murder mystery set in Mammoth Cave; High Strangeness, about alien abduction in Kentucky; and The Search for Tinker Doyle, a nod to Danville’s sister city, Carrickfergus, Ireland.
Grounded is a play about second chances and the lure of the land we call home. Reading an adaptation of the words she had spent so long with in creating a book was, at first, strange for Correll. “I knew it would be different because what a play needs is different than what a book needs, but she kept the heart of the book,” she said. “Nothing she did was outside the heart of the book, and some parts are exactly the same.”
Core to the book and the play—inspired, in part, by the philosophy of Wendell Berry—is finding work that sustains us, values that ground us and relationships that complete us.
But there are differences. “Some of the things [Marcantel] did in the script, I wish I had done in the book,” Correll said. “I loved it.”
Marcantel is a Louisiana native living in New York. She is in the first year of a Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program fellowship at the Juilliard School under the direction of, among several seasoned playwrights, 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning Kentuckian Marsha Norman (’night, Mother). Grounded is not Marcantel’s first Kentucky-based play. Her play, Blood Song: The Story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, opens in July for its third consecutive summer at the Hatfield-McCoy Park Outdoor Theater in McCarr, Kentucky (Pike County).
“Kentucky is so rich; we have so much history!” said Heather, an author in her own right. “It’s honestly easy to dedicate one show a season to exploring bits of our unique heritage and culture—and the audiences seem to love it when we celebrate the community and the state. Who knows, maybe Angela and I will do one about the Henson-Crouch shooting one of these days.”
The Corrells, seventh-generation Kentuckians, share Lincoln County’s Plainview Farm with an assortment of beef cattle, chickens and Nubian milk goats. When not working on the sequel to Grounded, Angela is the co-owner of the Bluebird Café, a farm-to-table restaurant promoting local food produced in a humane and natural way, and Kentucky Soaps and Such, which sells handcrafted soap, lotion and other skin-care products from goat milk produced at the farm, along with a wide assortment of gifts. Both are located in buildings the couple has renovated in Stanford.
The couple also has remodeled five historical homes into Wilderness Road Guest Houses (see October 2014 issue of Kentucky Monthly, page 24), keeping the style and architecture while updating the residences with modern conveniences. They renovated the old Masonic hall into a community center and are renovating a large steam-powered gristmill that dates back to 1884.