photo by Cece Conway
Manbites Dog Theater Company presents

A Tune for Tommy
February 14-March 10, 2002
a play by
Jesse Thompson Eustice, Edward Hunt and Jeff Storer
(based on writings by Jesse Thompson Eustice, Tommy Thompson, and Bill Hicks) 

Directed by Jeff Storer
Musical Director: Joe Newberry
Featuring Marcia Edmundson and David Ring

By popular demand, Manbites Dog's 2001 workshop hit returns in a full production.  In the mid 1990s, Red Clay Ramblers co-founder Tommy Thompson was diagnosed with a progressive Alzheimer's-like dementia.  A Tune for Tommy portrays the relationship between Tommy and his daughter and how that relationship changed after his diagnosis.
The band for the 2002 production of A Tune for Tommy (from left to right): James Leva on fiddle, Julie Oliver on bass, Joe Newberry on banjo, Greg Bell on guitar and keyboards 

Review in The Chronicle (Duke): "A Tune for Tommy Touches Hearts"
Review in The Sanford Herald: "A very special love story unfolds in Durham"
Marcia Edmondson, (Daughter) studies her script for the 2002 production.  Marcia says "It's not just pulling out a script and making some changes. It's really looking for new levels." 

Preview article from The Herald-Sun "'A Tune for Tommy' Explores Why the Music Stopped."

David Ring (Father) in a wheelchair
JESSE WRITES ABOUT THE CHANGES FOR 2002: The new production should be much more immediate for the audience. We have revised the script and the directors and designers working together have created some great new movement-music scenes.

The changes start with a largely revised script, but hardly end there. Jeff and Ed and I looked at the areas in the script where the daughter or the father narrated memories and developed dialogue and action to show, instead of tell, the memories. In addition, the set, designed by Jan Chambers, uses sheer black curtains to illustrate events in memory. The music is now provided by Greg Bell, James Leva, Julie Oliver, and Joe Newberry, under the direction of Joe Newberry. Although Julie and Greg did not know and work with Dad, they have worked with so many others who have, they feel that they knew him. Julie is a talented and versatile musician who worked in Bah Humbug among many other productions. Greg is a terrific musician who has done a lot of work with Mike Craver and plays piano with the same loving articulation I am used hearing from Mike. James and Joe both know and have worked directly with my Dad. All of these musicians are extremely accomplished folks who have tremendous experience in musical theater.  The music is a more integral part of the show, weaving in and out of scenes. One of the most salient changes is the addition of a scene to show Tommy at the height of his career. This scene is a musical song and dance number, the result of collaboration between Jeff Storer, Barbara Dickinson, and Joe Newberry. Audiences who remember Tommy's career should get a little taste from this scene of Mama Fantastic (from Diamond Studs), Merchants Lunch, and Tommy's one man show, John Proffit. All of the musicians play small roles in the play as well. Two other changes I want to mention are the addition of a scene which takes place in the original Hollow Rock Store, and the use of slides in the conclusion of the show, to illustrate very real memories. Visually and dramatically it has come alive: it is exciting, funny, and tragic. 

As Jeff put it, "Theater is a collaboration between the playwrights, the designers, the actors, and the director." It is no longer just my story, but (we hope) a universal story of growing up. I am honored that Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt liked my work and wanted to help develop it. I'm honored that Manbites Dog Theater is producing it, and honored that the show has received the gift of attention from fine, fine people and artists like Marcia Edmundson and David Ring, Joe Newberry, Julie Oliver, Greg Bell, James Leva, Jan Chambers, Rachel Zielenski, Barbara Dickinson, Jesse Belsky, Kay Webb, and Michael Brocki. I am honored that it is being supported by people in this community who believe in it, and who believe in Manbites Dog Theater, and I am grateful for the tremendous personal and professional education I have received through this process. 

When I watch rehearsals I am filled with happy anticipation. I think we have a great show here. 

Marcia Edmundson (Daughter) assists David Ring (Dad)
Musicians (l-r): Jonathan Byrd, Joe Newberry, Mary Charlton
these two photos by Alan Dehmer
Director Jeff Storer works with musician Jonathan Byrd (l) in a rehearsal (Rear l-r): Marcia Edmundson, Barbara Dickinson (choreographer), Carolyn Covalt (stage manager).

Reviews (2001)

Publicity (2001)

Back in the spring of '99, Jesse Thompson Eustice began contributing letters to the Original Red Clay Ramblers website.  She told us about her dad -- memories, frustrations, triumphs, and insights while helping him connect as long as he can through his music.  These letters and Tommy's own writing and music became elements in the play Jesse co-wrote.  We're proud of what Jesse has done and thank her for sharing her writing and herself with us.
Jesse's Letters by Jesse Thompson Eustice
Coming to Hollow Rock by Tommy Thompson
The Sleeper by Bill Hicks
October 27, 2002