WHEELING - Although much of the pomp and circumstance surrounding West Virginia's statehood sesquicentennial is in the rear-view mirror, next month may offer one more opportunity to reflect on the Mountain State's unique origins.
Thomas Rodd, co-founder of the J.R. Clifford Project and author of the play "A New Home for Liberty," said state Division of Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith has given the OK to stage the play at West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling. The group is eyeing an Oct. 22 production date, with potential alternate dates including Oct. 24, 26 or 27.
It would be a shorter, scaled-down version of the script that has played to crowds of several hundred in Morgantown, Charleston and Shepherdstown since 2011. Plans to hire a professional director and put on a larger-scale production of the play at the Capitol Theatre fell through this summer due to a lack of funds.
A production of the statehood drama “A New Home for Liberty” is staged in Shepherdstown, W.Va. A scaled-down version may come to West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling next month.
But in a roundabout way, Rodd said, organizers got what they wanted all along.
"It's actually been in our minds for three years that we wanted to do it at Independence Hall. ... I'm looking forward to it," he said.
There would be no charge for admission, but reservations may be required due to the small size of the venue. Rodd said the group may stage two productions in the same day to allow everyone interested in attending to do so.
The plot of "A New Home for Liberty" revolves around two main characters who meet as old men at a train station in 1913: Granville Hall, the early abolitionist editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, and J.R. Clifford, a Civil War veteran and West Virginia's first black attorney. Topics explored include the role of slavery in the state's creation; namely, how the original constitution West Virginia founders submitted to Congress was silent on slavery, and how children often faced vicious bullying for their parents' abolitionist beliefs - even in pre-Civil War Virginia's pro-Union western counties.
Although fundraising for a full-scale production fell short, Rodd said after seeing the enthusiasm expressed during planning meetings in Wheeling earlier this year, he worked hard to find a way to present the play in the Friendly City.
"I don't want to disappoint those people. ... It spoke to them for one reason or another," he said. "There really is a need to look at this statehood issue through the slavery and civil rights lens."
The characters of Hall and Clifford are already cast, but Rodd said they'll be looking for additional cast members for the local area. Anyone interested in participating in any way should call him at 304-541-4494 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.