It may sound like the latest production from CAST, but the stage is actually set for today's service at Hill Crest Baptist Church in Saks. The alternative-to-Halloween drama "There's No Place Like Home" will have its first and its second of five showings as part of a 17-year-tradition for the 3,000-member church on U.S. 431.
"I just simply want to present the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Dara Murphy, the writer of "There's No Place Like Home," her ninth play she's written for the church. "We want to show the possibility of an eternal home — that's our ultimate goal."
The October drama has become a well-known production in the Calhoun County religious community over the last several years that attracts thousands to the audience. Murphy said the play is a break from the tradition of churches offering Christian-themed "haunted houses" this time of the year.
"My goal is not to use scare tactics like heaven vs. hell," said Murphy, noting the play is safe for children of all ages, and contains a lot of humor. "It's to show the gospel and to see the love He gives if you choose his eternal home."
Murphy said this year's play is the fruition of several months of work, including the help of more than 50 volunteers who built sets, designed costumes, provided music, lighting and sound effects, and of course, acted.
In other words, it won't be a traditional Sunday service today at Hill Crest, and that's the way Pastor Rick Reaves likes it.
"We're not quite a normal Baptist church," said Reaves, who's been with th church for 37 years. "I've got no problem with tradition, but in a lot of ways the church has been driven and smothered by tradition."
Reaves said the church doesn't oppose Halloween-related activities, but wanted to start an annual play as an alternative for families looking to honor God instead of the usual trick-or-treating and harvest activities.
"Every year I say it can't get any bigger than this," Reaves said. "And every year it gets bigger."
As its title suggests, "There's No Place Like Home" is a re-imagining of “The Wizard of Oz,” with the Emerald City, the place where all dreams come true, replaced by heaven.
Murphy said the idea came to her while traveling earlier in the year to Kansas, the state she was born in, but has not returned to since she was 3 years old. She said the journey was symbolic to see where she came from and to understand where she wants to go after life.
Getting Murphy's vision from script to stage has become the full-time job of Phillip Haynes, the maintenance supervisor at Hill Crest, who's been working since August on the production.
"It's getting it from her head and making sure it all fits," Haynes said. "It doesn't just come together the night before."
Murphy's cast has also been working since August to get down their roles. For the man playing the part of Scarecrow, Jay Parrack, it’s been an unusual task. Parrack, a first-time actor who is the music worship minister at Hill Crest, said he's more at home singing than speaking, but won't have that luxury in Murphy's play.
"She made me do it," Parrack said, with a laugh, about taking the role. "She said she wrote it for me, but I think that was mostly based on my physique, or lack thereof."
Not all of the cast is inexperienced. This year's lead, Dawn Hedgepeth, playing the role of Dorothy, is acting in her fourth play for the church. But regardless of the backgrounds of the actors, Murphy said it's the most talented cast she's had to work with for the drama.
Not that the real message of the play is about the talents of anyone involved, Murphy said.
"This isn't about me," Murphy said. "This is about the gospel and the word of God."
Showing of "There's No Place Like Home" are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. today, and for 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. The play is free and open to the public.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.