Artistic Civic Theatre bringing back an audience favorite

Mar. 1—When Mary McLawhorn sat down to read "Dearly Departed" in preparation to direct the Artistic Civic Theatre's production of the play, she said she heard familiar voices.

"We've done this play four previous times since we opened 31 years ago," she said. "When I sat down to read the show I heard the voices of the actors that have played these parts in the past. That's how memorable it is."

The play, a comedy, is set in the South.

"The first scene starts with (married couple) Raynelle and Bud at the kitchen table," McLawhorn said. "Bud is reading a newspaper. Raynelle is reading a letter from Bud's sister, and Bud gets up and dies. The rest of the show is leading up to Bud's funeral. It's the family coming in. The family choosing the funeral home and casket and the flowers. The last scene is Bud's funeral. It is set in the South. This is a very redneck family. They love each other very much, but they are very dysfunctional."

The ACT is celebrating its 30th season this year, and that's why the group decided to bring back "Dearly Departed."

"This season is technically our 31st season, but COVID-19 took out a season, so this is our 30th season," McLawhorn said. "We wanted to do a mix of shows we have done before and new shows, a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new. This show has been produced, I think four times, since we opened 31 years ago. This is the fifth time we have done it. It has always been a very popular show here. We've had audience members asking for it. There are two shows that our ACT is really known for. This one and 'Smoke on the Mountain.'"

"Smoke on the Mountain," a musical set in a Baptist church in 1930s North Carolina, was the first ACT production. The ACT's first director was Wes Phinney, who now is the head of Dalton High School's theater department

"There's a committee," McLawhorn said. "I'm on that committee, and we decide how many plays we want to do, what kinds of plays. Do we want drama? Do we want comedy? Do we want musicals? Do we want Shakespeare? When we sat down with the committee I said we have to do one of those two shows ('Dearly Departed' or 'Smoke on the Mountain') as our old show."

Carol Burchfield has performed in every production ACT has done of "Dearly Departed." This time she is playing a new part, that of Marguerite, Bud's younger sister.

"I really like the way McLawhorn has let us develop the characters," she said. "It's different (from past productions) but good. People are really going to enjoy it."

McLawhorn said, "It's very exciting that we have been in the community so long and we are thriving and getting better."

"Dearly Departed" will be presented at the Artistic Civic Theatre at 907 Gaston St. in Dalton on March 10-11 at 7:30 p.m., March 12 at 2 p.m. and March 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are adult, $16; senior 65 and older, $14; and students and children under 10, $12.

Tickets are on sale at

"I highly recommend buying them in advance because this show is so popular," McLawhorn said.

She said theater members are finalizing the production.

"We are putting the final touches on the sets," McLawhorn said. "We have some painting to do. We are getting the last props, and then it's just run-throughs. Timing is especially important in comedies."