The First Southern Baptist Church of Dover presents an inspiring story of faith.
It is December 1884, and the storm of the century is headed straight for Clayton Springs, Conn. By Christmas day, this tiny town will suffer devastation on a scale that might give its inhabitants cause to even question the meaning of life itself. But the people of the fictional Clayton Springs do not lose faith. How they survive is the crux of “The Mollywood Tree,” an original musical presented by the First Southern Baptist Church of Dover. “This is about a town that is literally destroyed, but it's not a grim story,” said Pastor David Aubrey. “It's a beautiful story about survival and faith and how a miracle happened, about how all the people in the town joined together.” At the center of the play is the titular Mollywood Tree, which almost is a character in its own right. “The Mollywood Tree is the most symbolic part of our story,” Aubrey said. “Our story is full of symbolism. In fact, every word, every song, every set piece, is a metaphor for the Christmas story and for salvation.” The play is the work of author Everett De Morier, who has penned all of First Southern's Christmas productions. “When I approached him that first year, I told him the Lord had laid it on my heart to do a Christmas program. I just feel you are supposed to be a part of this,” Aubrey said. “His response was, 'Dave, if you tell me you need me to go put on a duck costume, I'll put on a duck costume.'” Much of “The Mollywood Tree” unfolds through the experiences of three youngsters, played by Kierstin Melnick, Chris Baldinger and Noah Pfenninger. “The one thing we wanted to do is tell the story through their eyes,” De Morier said. “At that age, the world is still huge, magical and exciting.” Despite the hardships the residents of Clayton Springs face, the children find by the end of the play that “everything they thought was important is important,” he said. This will mark the fifth year the church has put on an original Christmas production. Back in 2009, when Aubrey came up with the idea he literally had nothing to work with – no stage, no sets and no experience. But that year the church successfully presented “Dover: A Christmas Story,” using very simple background sets. Things went so well that when the play was repeated in 2010, Aubrey decided to kick it up a notch. “We'd been told that if you want to make your production really fantastic, you have to call in Eddie Seger,” Aubrey said. “He came in and built us this three-dimensional, full-stage set. It was unbelievable.” With Seger on board, productions of “A Gift to Remember” in 2011 and “The Loockerman Letter” in 2012 proved to be even more visually interesting. Seger, a retired Caesar Rodney High School art and drama teacher, tries to visualize the author's thoughts when turning words on a page into a three-dimensional world. “It's fun, because with an original play you get to make suggestions,” Seger said. “In this case, Everett has created one of his best shows. It's got a real feel for the holiday season.” For “The Mollywood Tree,” Seger created a trio of periactoi, three-sided panels on rollers that can be moved to create new scenery. The sets also include a 10-foot high bandstand, a 35-foot-long sledding hill, a realistic-looking bonfire and, of course, the Mollywood Tree, which will tower 14 feet above the stage floor. The special effects centerpiece will be when the massive snowstorm actually hits Clayton Springs. “It will be a very interactive, three-dimensional, use-all-your-senses kind of storm,” Aubrey promised. “For about 30 seconds, there'll be snow, wind and things falling on stage.” Some of the faux snowflakes might even land in the audience, he said. The play has a cast of about 50, including the choir, who also serve as townspeople. All of the songs are weaved into the storyline in a way that smoothly moves the narrative along. For more information, call the church at 678-3130.