Torren L. Cooper, left, stars as Jefferson, with Dr. Rita Smith Wade-El as Emma Glenn.

The Millersville University Theatre will present the play “A Lesson Before Dying” for their first performance of the 2014 spring semester.

The play, based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines, tells a story about Jefferson, an innocent young black man who is condemned to death in rural Louisiana in 1948. At the trial, his lawyer compares executing Jefferson with killing a hog. As a result, Jefferson acts like a hog in prison, insisting that he will be dragged to his death in the electric chair.  His godmother asks the local schoolteacher to teach Jefferson to die like a man. The teacher, Grant Wiggins, who is struggling to quit his poor parish school and leave the South, confronts both Jefferson and himself as the execution day arrives, forging a bond between the two men as they come to understand what it means to decide one’s own fate.

Dr. Amanda Kemp, founder of Theatre for Transformation, will be guest directing the play. “I was hesitant to originally take on this play because I thought it would be too sad. I was afraid it wouldn’t be inspiring,” said Kemp. “However, after I read the play and saw how the main character chooses to die, and how it affects the individuals around him, the play inspired me.”

Tony Elliot, associate professor of communication & theatre, also was moved by the play. “I read the novel more than 10 years ago, and I loved it,” said Elliot. “It was very moving and full of information of the time and place in 1948—Deep South and racial tensions. It was mostly about the people trapped in the situation and what they did to deal with it.”

Opening night was Friday, February 28 at 8 p.m. at the Rafters Theatre in Dutcher Hall. Additionally, on March 6 after the performance, a talkback will be held with the cast, directors and audience members to discuss the play and any issues suggested by the play. A full list of performance dates is listed below. Tickets cost $10 for general admission and $7 for students.

Additional Performance Dates:

Saturday, March 1 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, March 2 at 2 p.m.

Thursday, March 6 at 8 p.m.

Friday, March 7 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, March 9 at 2 p.m.


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  1. FYI: $5.00 tickets are available with MU ID if purchased in advance at the SMC ticket window. Get your tickets early Rafters Theatre seating is limited.

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