Photos: Bittersweet opening for 'Benediction' rehearsals

Our full gallery of first-day photos, above

Benediction_Rehearsals_Kent_Thompson_400 The start of rehearsals for the upcoming world premiere of Benediction was a bittersweet gathering for DCPA Theatre Company cast and crew, coming so soon after the Nov. 29 death of novelist Kent Haruf.

The DCPA Theatre Company will complete its commitment to adapting and staging Haruf’s Plainsong Trilogy with the opening of Benediction on Jan. 30.

“There are a lot of personal, professional and artistic reasons to do this play right now,” Director Kent Thompson told his cast of 16, along with crew, staff and company ambassadors.

“We’ve been working closely with Kent for eight years — first on Plainsong, then on Eventide and now, with Benediction. And all of them have been profound experiences for the theatre community, and for the audiences we serve in Colorado.

“Kent was an extraordinary person in many ways. He was incredibly authentic as a writer, and incredibly unsentimental. Kent always wrote with such authenticity, compassion, honesty and lyricism about life in small-town America — in his case, set on the Eastern Plains of Colorado.” 

Thompson shared how he first encountered Haruf’s writing. The year was 2000, and Thompson was then the artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. His mother-in-law, who lives in Colorado, gave him a copy of Plainsong and told him to read it.

“I was so taken with it,” Thompson said. “I realized that it was an Our Town for today.”


Shortly after Thompson was hired as the DCPA’s Producing Artistic Director, he had the good fortune of meeting Haruf and his wife, Cathy. Haruf told Thompson he loathed a Hallmark TV adaptation of Plainsong, and so Thompson then commissioned playwright Eric Schmieldl to adapt the novel for the stage. Thompson called it “an arranged marriage” between Schmiedl and Haruf.

“It seemed like Eric was completely captured by Kent’s words and spirit,” Thompson said. “He just channeled Kent as he wrote these plays, which are so very important for Colorado and the West. But I think if you are from any town in the U.S. that’s small and rural, you will get these characters.”

Benediction_Rehearsals_Mike_Hartman_3_400 Despite Haruf’s specificity to Colorado, there is a huge fan base for his books all over the world. Earlier this year, Benediction was short-listed for Britain’s first Folio Prize, a literary award given to a book of fiction by an author from any country. (The winner of the 40,000-pound first prize was Colorado School of Mines graduate George Saunders for Tenth of December.) 

Haruf was diagnosed with lung disease in 2007. In February of this year, he was told his condition was terminal. Thompson and his wife, Benediction actor Kathleen McCall, attended Haruf’s memorial in Salida “with very mixed feelings,” he said. “It was a very beautiful moment because it recognized that life is this journey, and part of the journey is death. Part of the journey is loss. Part of the journey is separation. Marriages fail. Children are orphaned. Preachers lose their calling.”

Benediction is made up of three interwoven family stories. Dad Lewis (Mike Hartman, pictured above right) is a man who is unmistakably dying, and with regrets. Berta May has taken in her recently orphaned granddaughter, Alice. The Reverend Robert Lyle has been ostracized – from his family and congregation — for speaking his mind.

“It’s a really authentic story,” Thompson said. “To me, it’s a story about people who are stuck, who are lost, and who have come to a very difficult transition — be it death, be it marriage, be it a crisis faith. Somehow, they all are in need of a blessing. Kent told me, ‘We all need blessings so we can move forward.’ I think that’s the journey of the play, and the book.”

Thompson spoke to Haruf about what he hoped theatregoers would get out of seeing Benediction on the stage. “He felt that if this production of Benediction would make it easier for people to talk about these incredibly difficult things that we like to not talk about in our society,” Thompson said, “then everything — the book, the play, his legacy — will be complete.”

The first full reading of the script. Photo by John Moore. To see our complete gallery of photos, click here.

Benediction: Cast list
Dad Lewis: Mike Hartman
Mary Lewis: Joyce Cohen
Reverend Robert Lyle: Ed Martin
Beverly Lyle: Nancy Lemenager
John Wesley Lyle: Nick Lamedica
Alene Johnson: Nance Williamson
Willa Johnson: Billie McBride
Lorraine Lewis: Kathleen McCall
Berta May: Leslie O’Carroll
Alice: Zoe Delaney Stahlhut
Genevieve Larson/Waitress/Young Woman: Amelia Marie Corrada
Rudy/Ensemble: James Newcomb
Bob/Policeman/Ed: Lawrence Hecht
Laurie Wheeler/Marlene/Young Woman: Adrian Egolf
Ronald Dean Walker: Benjamin Bonenfant
Richard/Frank/Ensemble: Jonathan Crombie
Luann/Marlene/Janine: Tracy Shaffer
Benediction: Ticket information
Performances run Jan. 30 through March 1
Space Theatre
Performances daily except Mondays
Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at

Our previous coverage of Benediction:

Kent Haruf, author of ‘Plainsong’ Trilogy, dies at age 71
Kent Haruf: The complete final interview
Kent Thompson on the 2014-15 season, play by play
2014 Colorado New Play Summit will complete ‘Plainsong’ trilogy

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