When Reed Hooker, a hot-shot card player, obtains an old plantation house which he intends to turn into a dance hall, the last thing he expects is its acquisition of the epithet “The Lucky Spot.” But then again, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of this Beth Henley play is little of what audience members will expect in the first place.

Paul Wong
Roy (left) and Phenix look, uh, up. (Courtesy of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre)

“The Lucky Spot” follows the experiences of several characters in the Depression-era South. Reed Hooker’s company includes a dense handyman known as Turnip and a girl who he has won in a card game, Cassidy Smith.

Complications arise when a pregnant Cassidy attempts to get a divorce agreement from Reed’s estranged and violent wife, Sue Jack, by inviting her to the house for a Christmas dinner. Recently released from prison, Sue Jack is known for her violent behavior and this causes the “sudden” departure of the dancers Reed had hired. More problems ensue when Whit Carmichael, a former admirer of Sue Jack, appears on the scene.

“I love dramadies in which I can find the comedy,” said Wendy Wright, the director of the production. Wright has been directing plays at the Civic Theatre for 15 years. She has had a long connection with the University and enjoys acting alongside directing. Wright also hosts a show on WEMU radio, a prominent station in Ypsilanti.

“The first thing that attracted me to the play was the potential for music,” she said. “I have an affinity for New Orleans jazz of the ’30s.” As the play includes the music of Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Billie Holiday among others, “The Lucky Spot” is full of swinging jazz tunes.

Emily Phenix, who plays Sue Jack, looks forward to expressing the complexity of her character. “Sue Jack is a very hot-headed, passionate character. Things are either black or white for her,” Phenix said. “It’s a stretch for me, but I welcome the challenge, because I usually get pigeon-holed into unsubstantial characters, but Sue Jack is a woman.”

“She has sadness and baggage, and she doesn’t have to look for the positive. The same is true for me in a lot of ways. It’s kind of scary,” Phenix said. “I like that she has that violent streak. I love shooting the gun and getting to swear.”

With such volatile character dynamics, Wright believes that Henley’s “quirky” characters are a stretch for all of the actors. “With all of the actors, the Southern world of the thirties is foreign to them. It is a world we don’t know. There was no welfare and no social security,” she said.

Another key element of the play is the fact that the story takes place in close proximity to New Orleans. “These are New Orleans characters – descendants of the underworld of New Orleans,” Wright said.

In addition to Phenix, the cast includes Rob Roy as Reed, Amelia Martin as Cassidy and Aaron Rabb as Turnip.

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