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Coming home for Christmas

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FAMILY AT THE CENTER:The Spencer family gathers around their grandparents played by Laura Mendoza and Lewis Suttles.
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FROM MY FUTURE SELF:Jacob Bradford, playing Clayboy the Spencer’s eldest son, transitions seamlessly between narrator and lead character.

By Abigail Roberts - ctreporter@indy.rr.com

Based on the familiar 1970s’ Waltons TV show, “The Homecoming,” directed by JJ Leak, opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Marion’s James Dean Memorial Theatre.

On a blustery Christmas Eve in 1933, the Spencer family nervously await the return of their father, played by Craig Persinger.

Olivia, the mother, played by Anne Miller, eventually sends the eldest of her eight children, her son Clayboy, played by Jacob Bradford, out to look for his father. Along the way, Clayboy locates not only his father but also a deeper piece of his identity.

As he climbs down Spencer Mountain, the many villagers he meets along the way teach him more about his father than he ever could have expected.

“It is a very heartwarming story,” Miller said. “Forget about today’s problems and explore the time period.”

Clayboy’s unique character switches during scenes between his future self as a writer and his younger self within the story. Bradford, like many actors and actresses in the show, is a Marion Civic Theater regular, returning to the stage for the seventeenth time.

While auditioning, Bradford didn’t want to play Clayboy, but in a tender moment between Clayboy and his father, Bradford connected and felt the depth “The Homecoming” story carries.

“Our Christmas shows really are pretty powerful and especially this one,” Bradford said. “I knew going into it that it was going to be a pretty powerful experience.”

The large cast, numbering over 30 characters, brings the small mountain town to life. Each actor and actress brings not only a unique presence to the stage, but some have even brought along their own family members to star alongside them.

Miller found her character to be an embodiment of the stories her own grandmother used to tell and in carrying on the family thread, three of her own children join her on stage as part of the Spencer family.

“Marion Civic Theater is such a wonderful place to teach your children about art and be a part of it,” Miller said. “It has a very homey feel to it.”

According to Miller’s young son Carter, the best part of the play is putting the decorations on the Christmas tree.

Not a father himself, Persinger has loved exploring what it means to be a father of eight children.

“The Homecoming” emphasizes the importance of priorities and carries a strong sense of family. For the Spencer family, nothing really matters because Clay isn’t home yet.

“There are some good family and coming of age themes,” Leak said. “It is about the anticipation, the anticipation of Christmas, the anticipation of being with family.”

As Clayboy progresses in his journey toward finding his father, audience members can begin to draw parallels between themselves and the characters on stage.

Even in 1933, Clay, like many teenagers today, is seeking his true identity while simultaneously trying to make his family proud. Additionally, the Spencer family, caught in the middle of the Great Depression are scrimping for funds.

“They have more love than money to go around,” Persinger said.

“I do think we struggle financially as a community,” Leak said. “In that way, we can relate to the Spencer family and join them in the hope we find hope in Christmas time.”

A laughter-filled holiday piece with heart-tugging moments mixed in, “The Homecoming,” leaves audience members ready for Christmas.

With tickets at $10 for seniors and students and $12 for adults, this heartwarming show is not one to miss this season.