After director/actor Eugene Wolf received a late evening phone call from Barter Theatre's producing artistic director Richard Rose, he immediately sprang into action.
"I wasn't sure what we were going to do, but I knew we were all going to have to come together to make sure the show would go on," says Wolf.
At this point in time, little did Wolf know that for the show he just directed, the world premiere of Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings, he would step into the role of Sharmayne Blickett-for the rest of the run. The show had just previewed with the original cast of characters and then, Tricia Matthews-a favorite at Barter-broke her wrist while at home.
"I thought it would be just one night. So, since I directed the show, I knew the staging and I could memorize the lines. So, yeah, I could do this. Then I remembered all the songs in the show," says Wolf. "I began by watching Jean Shepard videos on YouTube."
"Vocally, Eugene stepped right in, with no difficulty," reports Steve Sensenig, music director at Barter Theatre.
There are twenty-nine songs in Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings and the actors are backed by a three-piece band, right on stage. Sensenig has gotten to see the transition from the beginning, along with musicians Gill Braswell and Doug Dourschug.
"I think in terms of music anyway," said Wolf. "I've had such an interesting and enjoyable time taking on Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings, with all the songs that move the story along, and shaping a play around it. My approach takes the spoken word as if it were music."
With bluesy, jazzy, country and notes of other genres, Wolf describes the music as the harmonizing of all mid-twentieth century American music.
"Jack Eric Williams was a man from Nashville who made it big in New York, and all the popular musical influences are clear," Wolf explains. "The songs are beautiful and melodic."
"On opening night, you would've thought you were at a rock concert," according to Katy Brown, head of casting. "That is when we knew Eugene was going to make it work."
"There were some laughs when the idea was first presented, but I told Eugene we were serious," Brown says.
Playwright Randy Buck had already approached Brown with the idea of Wolf stepping in for Matthews.
There are some shows like A Tuna Christmas that are written for a man to play various women. Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings is not like that. Sharmayne is a real woman with real feelings.
"The largest question I had was, 'will it serve the show?'" says Wolf.
Sean Campos, who plays an aspiring young singer in Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings says, "I knew Eugene had played several characters like Sharmayne before, and very, very well."
Wolf is no stranger to playing women characters. Wolf played Mrs. Blewett in Green Gables, he played a woman in Mother Courage and more.
"Eugene knows the women in Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings through his Mamaw and her friends. He shared the stories as we were rehearsing. He can identify with these women, which is why I believe he was the perfect choice to direct Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings in the first place and made him a great choice to step in," says Campos.
"Eugene has been finding beautiful moments as the character of Sharmayne. It's not hard for me to be on stage with him and believe that he is the character. I know he is playing it as honest as any other character he would approach," Campos adds.
"The whole thing was fun and experimental at first. We realized, with the nature and the comedy that were inherent in the show, this just added one more thing to the comedy," according to Sensenig.
"Everyone from the audience to the cast has embraced Eugene in this role and it really adds to the show," says Richard Rose, producing artistic director.
Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings runs through May 6 at Barter Stage II. For tickets and more information on all shows playing at Barter Theatre, call (276) 628-3991 or visit www.BarterTheatre.com.