“The Well House,” a love story with Hope roots, is set to open on the WILLow LeaVes stage this weekend thanks to the hard work of local resident David Webster.

Based on the book of the same name by Mark Van Voorhis and Ed Kugler, Webster admits adapting the story from prose to stage play didn’t take as long as he had originally thought it might.

“The Well House” is the story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms between Hope resident Clayton Riggs and Chicago native Maggie O’Reilly in 1966 when the two meet at the Well House at Indiana University Bloomington. Told through a series of one dozen letters, it is clear that neither Riggs nor O’Reilly expressed their true feelings for one another prior to Riggs joining the U.S. Marines and going off to war in Vietnam.

When Riggs is assumed missing in action, O’Reily continues to hold out hope that he is OK wherever he is, says Abby Calender, who portrays O’Reilly.
Calender admits that upon first reading she may have prematurely misjudged the leading lady’s character who pines for her lost love for nearly 30 years.

“I wasn’t sure if it was me to play that role because I took her character to be kind of weak because she couldn’t move on with her life,” Calender says. “But the more I deal with her character the more I’m like, ‘Wow. She was so strong and committed.’”

Webster, who is also producing the play, says the “guided nudge” he felt to pursue the project was something he couldn’t ignore. He stayed in communication with Voorhis throughout the project and says, though it all fell together perfectly, the greatest enjoyment he has experienced has been seeing the story breathe life.

“I think it’s seeing the words within a book come to life on the stage,” he says. “And it is all because of a great team.”

Taking the Well House from book to a nearly two-hour long stage production subtly began the moment Webster met Van Voorhis when he was in town promoting the book a few years ago. Webster subsequently read the book and recalled Van Voorhis mentioning his interest in it being made into a movie.

“I was thinking later, ‘Well, maybe if I adapt it to a play someone will pick it up and convert it to a movie,” Webster says. “The book has great substance and whenever you are working with great substance, it makes a difference.”

And it is precisely the substance of this story of love in a time of war, coupled with the dedicated hard work of all those involved in the stage production, that fuels the passion of cast and crew.

Director Pete Law says one of the biggest challenges for him has been honoring the story and work of its creators.

“Webster has worked on this for quite some time,” Law says. “I want to do him justice for his hard work, as well as for the authors.”

From a technical perspective, working within the confines of a small stage forced Law and the cast to get creative with set design.

“We are using technology with the projection of pictures to keep everything nuanced,” Law says. “So moving from one part to another we use visual pictures to tell us what time we are in and where we are.”

Elizabeth Sexton, Hauser visual arts teacher, with her husband, Jeremy, and her students, Carly Archer, Raley Clark, Shelby Fugate, Brooke Hopkins, Leah Joyce, Courtney Nicholas, Kayla Poff, Melanie Taylor, Tristan Watkins and Alex Woodson-Johnson, designed the backdrop of the IU Well House which will be center stage for the performance of the play.

As Webster and the play’s cast of 13 look forward to opening night, hopes are high that audience members are touched in some way, whether that is through emotion or nostalgia.

“I think people are going to take away different things,” Webster says. “It is a drama, though I tried to incorporate some humor. I don’t think you can ask for anything better; I think everyone will take something away from it.”