Out & About

Based on a true story, Theatre Macon’s ‘Swell Party’ filled with murder, mystery and intrigue

Smith (Anthony Ennis) left, Libby (Georgia Olson), Blanche (Liane Treiman) and Ab (Brian Hess) in Theatre Macon's production of ``Swell Party.''
Smith (Anthony Ennis) left, Libby (Georgia Olson), Blanche (Liane Treiman) and Ab (Brian Hess) in Theatre Macon's production of ``Swell Party.'' bcabell@macon.com

“Intrigue, mystery, murder and comedy” are the words Theatre Macon Director Jim Crisp used to describe the theater’s latest production, “Swell Party,” which opens Friday.

Set in 1932, and based on a true story, “Swell Party” tells the story of a party held to honor the return of the young R.J. Reynolds tobacco heir Smith Reynolds, his new wife, Broadway star Libby Holman, and her eccentric acting coach. The only problem with the evening is when young Smith Reynolds turns up dead.

“I would call this a comic murder mystery, but it is very much a murder mystery based on a real story,” Crisp said. “It is based on the death of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco heir, Smith Reynolds. He was 20 years old and married to a very well-known Broadway star, Libby Holman. The new Mrs. Reynolds is a dozen years older than Smith, and arrives with a trunk-load of gin and an acting coach, Blanche Yurka, who is quite possibly insane.

“Smith’s guardian, Kate Reynolds, attempts to manage the scandal, aided by her secretary Babe and Smith’s best friend Ab. Reynolds’ new bride was not only an actress, which was scandalous enough at the time, but she was also Jewish. She was clearly an outsider in her own family.”

On the night of a big party at the Reynolds’ estate, Smith ends up dead.

“We have never known if it was murder or suicide. This play offers a possible solution -- a really good one, actually. The story is utterly absorbing and very moving,” Crisp said.

With the story jumping in time between the investigation and the night of the party, the characters offer their own interpretations of the events of that night.

“There is a great deal of humor, which I admire about this playwright,” Crisp said. “These are very real, dynamic characters and they have a lot of humor in their humanity and in their situation. This is a small cast, but it is truly exceptional and we have some new-to-us actors on stage.”

“Swell Party” will open Theatre Macon’s 30th season. Crisp said he was looking for something special to open the season, something new.

“Our theater, in its 30 years, has a great track record of doing new work. Sometimes, it’s new work that hasn’t been seen anywhere else -- or seen rarely -- and sometimes, it’s older plays that haven’t been performed here,” he said.

“As theater director, it is important to me as a part of our mission is to present new work and we are only the second theater to do this play. This playwright, Topher Payne, is relatively new, but he writes with a grace and flow of a much more experienced playwright. The result is utterly charming.”

Part of the fun with a play such as this, one based on real events, is that audience members can research what really happened.

“Anyone can do some research on the internet and see actual pictures of the Reynolds Estate and the parties in question,” Crisp said. “Our lead actor looks quite a bit like the real Smith Reynolds, and it is possible to lose yourself completely in this story.”

“Swell Party”

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 4-5, 11-12; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9-10; 2:30 p.m. Sept. 6

Where: Theatre Macon, 438 Cherry St.

Cost: $25 adults, $20 seniors (60+), $15 students

Information: 478-746-9485; www.theatremacon.com

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