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Hendrix Playwright’s Theatre to Premiere Haman’s ‘Pie Town’

CONWAY, Ark. (September 4, 2019) — An award-winning new play will debut in a staged reading in early September at Hendrix College. The reading is part of the annual Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Playwright’s Theatre, during which Hendrix alumni and students will present the play.

The reading of Pie Town by John Haman ’87, winner of the 2019 Hendrix-Murphy Alumni Playwriting Contest, will be presented on Friday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. in Cabe Theatre on the Hendrix College campus. The event is free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required. The reading will be followed by an audience discussion and a reception in Mills Lobby. The reading is co-sponsored by the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Pie Town is about Sawyer, a newspaper editor, who returns to the Arkansas Delta on a quest to transform the village of Beulah into “Pie Town, Arkansas,” but her quest is complicated by “a sinister rival for the town's affections — a man she longs to unmask as a fraud and a violent abuser,” according to Haman. 

Haman graduated from Hendrix with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. He has an extensive background in acting, directing, and playwriting. Before becoming a wealth management advisor, he spent many years in newspaper reporting and public relations. He works in or volunteers at many high schools in the area and is an Honorary Thespian in Troupe 2123 at Lakeside High School. 

Hendrix alumni, students, and staff will be involved in all other aspects of the production as well. Tucker Steinmetz ’63 of Little Rock will direct the reading. 

The cast is led by Natalie Canerday ’85, reading the part of Sawyer. The cast will also include Jeanne Griggs ’82 as Anni, Heath DeJean ’07 as Mike, Mark Young ’01 as Buck, Regi Ott ’98 as Barb, Sam Gibson ’22 as Eric, Ruthie Thompson Bernabe ’81 as Lynette, Darby Grace Beranek ’05 as Suzy, Elizabeth Williams Whitsett ’13 as Laura, Dani Carney ’21 as Kayla, Brooks Caruthers ’84 as Father Dean, and Keith Coker ’87 as Tommy, Sheriff. 

An annual staged reading series, Playwright’s Theatre evolved in 1999 from the annual Alumni and Student Playwriting Contests first sponsored by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation in 1986. The program was designed to cultivate the skills of fledgling playwrights who are current or former Hendrix students. A professional playwright judges the competitions, one for students and the other for alumni. Playwright’s Theatre, founded by Professor Danny Grace and Dr. Rosemary E. Henenberg, Willis H. Holmes Distinguished Professor of Theatre Arts, Emerita, extends the efforts of the contest by enabling winners of the alumni contest to see their plays in staged readings that often involve both alumni and students as cast and production crew. 

This event is sponsored by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, which are designed to enhance and enrich the study and teaching of literature and language at Hendrix College. For more information about this and future events, please contact Henryetta Vanaman, 501-450-4597 or

Following are brief bios of the alumni cast and crew members:

Tucker Steinmetz, class of 1963, received a B.A. in English from Hendrix. He has worked as an English teacher and as a journalist. He attended graduate school for Social Work and started a career in mental health. Between 1995 and 2007, he appeared in 34 stage shows and 5 short films. Now retired, Tucker is excited to return to Hendrix to direct Haman’s play. 

Natalie Canerday, class of 1985, graduated Hendrix with a degree in Theatre Arts. She has appeared in 50 films, including Sling Blade and Walk the Line, and has performed in 103 plays, but her favorite stage will always be our own Cabe Theatre. Watch for Natalie in Sweet Inspirations on Pure Flix and in Season 3 of True Detective on HBO. 

Jeanne Griggs, class of 1982, graduated with Distinction from Hendrix and went on to receive a Masters and later a Ph.D. in English Lit. and Lang. from University of Maryland. She has taught at University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Otterbein College, and Kenyon College. Her favorite theatrical roles include Fairy Godmother in Passionella and Olga in Three Sisters at Hendrix, Pick-a-little Lady in MTV Arts’ The Music Man, and Margrethe Bohr in Copenhagen at Kenyon.

Heath DeJean, class of 2007, graduated from Hendrix with a degree in International Relations and Global Studies. Originally from Des Allemands, La., he was involved with the Hendrix Players during his time at Hendrix. In addition to acting, he worked as a box office and house manager and served in other stage management/technical roles. After college, he worked for both the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and The Weekend Theatre. Now, he is a corporate and securities associate for a law firm in Houston, Texas.

Mark Young, class of 2001, graduated from Hendrix with a degree in Theatre. Born in Bowie, Texas, he currently resides in Conway, Ark., where he is the Regional Director of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café. He starred in several plays when he attended Hendrix and has been involved with Playwright’s Theatre as a cast member several times before.

Regi Ott, class of 1998, graduated Hendrix with a degree in Theatre. She has been an actor/singer since the age of five, and has performed in various theaters around Arkansas, including The Weekend Theater and our very own Cabe Theatre. Currently, Regi is a realtor with iRealty Arkansas, and she co-owns River City Coffee in Historic Hillcrest, Little Rock.

Sam Gibson, class of 2022, is a Theatre Major from Cabot, Ark. He is no stranger to Cabe Theatre; he acted in Passion Play, Pt. 1 last November and Passion Play Pt. 2 in February.

Ruthie Thompson Bernabe, class of 1981, graduated with a degree in Humanities (emphasis in Theatre). She acted in several plays while at Hendrix including Grease and Heartbreak House. After graduation, she became a full-time musician in Memphis and was the owner of Rockingchair Studios Recording studio. Currently, Ruthie uses her background in theatre to help her teach Spanish to preschoolers. 

Darby Grace Beranek, class of 2005, graduated from Hendrix with a degree in Biology. She attended UAMS and graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2009. Darby began acting at a young age, performing at the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre. Her favorite roles included Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Fairy May in The Curious Savage, both of which were directed by Mike Mueller ’88 during his stint as a theatre arts teacher at NLRHS.

Elizabeth Williams Whitsett, class of 2013, graduated from Hendrix with a degree in Theatre Arts. Elizabeth is now the Youth STEM Specialist at Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center. For several years, Elizabeth has been on the board of directors for the Community Arts Association of Conway. She has participated in many on- and off-stage roles at the Lantern Theatre and is co-directing their Fall show, The Odd Couple

Dani Carney, class of 2021, is a Theatre Arts major and Social Justice minor. Her passion is to create and learn about theatre that inspires social change. After graduation, she hopes to attend graduate school for Applied Theatre. 

Brooks Caruthers, class of 1984, graduated Hendrix with a degree in Music Performance. His first play was an early winner of the Hendrix-Murphy Playwriting Contest. He has continued to write and direct plays and play music and is currently a Library Assistant with the Central Arkansas Library System. 

Keith Coker, class of 1987, graduated Hendrix with a degree in Psychology. Although he has been away from the stage since graduation, Keith has been supporting theatre programs such as Arkansas River Valley Arts Center and Red Curtain Theatre in Conway. He is currently a pastor at Bell’s Chapel United Methodist Church and Atkins First United Methodist Church.