Much has been written about The Star City Playhouse since its arrival in Roanoke in 2004. The Playhouse is owned and operated by Marlow and Karon Sue Semones Ferguson a dynamic husband and wife theatre team. Together, they bring over 60 years of theatrical experience, which includes Broadway, The Muppet Show, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Ford’s Theater in D.C. and much more. This February the couple will present their 104th productions together; “Crimes of the Heart” by Beth Henley.
As Marlow fussed over set building, and Karon Sue prepared costuming in their giant wardrobe room, the couple chatted about the love story at the heart of this team.
Karon Sue grew up among the Blue Ridge Mountains ultimately graduating Hollins University in 1991 with two B.A. degrees in Creative Writing and Theatre in Dramatic Writing. Along the way, she saw Marlow at work twice. In the 70’s, she journeyed to Ford’s Theater on a school trip for a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”. Marlow played the cop moonlighting as a playwright. Other cast members included Stockard Channing and Edward Herrmann. Later, Marlow was hired to direct “The Owl and the Pussycat” at The Barn Dinner Theater here in Roanoke. Karon Sue was in the audience.
Skip to 1991. Marlow was invited to direct “Postage Due”, one of Karon Sue’s plays at Hollins. He was dazzled. The two wrote letters back and forth for a year. Marlow owned an apartment building in Li’l Italy in New York. As Karon Sue prepared to take an internship with The Muppet Show, she planned to stay in one of his apartments. This Roanoke gal worried that in New York she would not have a view of the mountains for the first time in her life.
“I took a look out of her window here. When I went back to New York, I had an artist paint that view on the backside of the apartment across from her window. It was four stories high!”, says Marlow. They married in 1991 and have never left the other’s side.
Karon Sue Semones writes and adapts plays and does all costuming. She is also the visionary for set dressing. Marlow laughs “She does it all with one finger. She says ‘paint that wall!’” Marlow does all the set building, the lighting/tech and directing.
The last four years have been trying for the indie theatre. First, they lost their space on Williamson Road. Then efforts to open an ideal location in Roanoke County were thwarted by the county itself. Hopes to open a dinner theatre at Crossroads evaporated as the landlord demanded the couple to do major repairs.
Undaunted, the show must go on! Thankful for an interim space in the basement of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge in Southeast Roanoke, the couple hopes to find a new future home for their theatre, costumes and wide array of sets. “We've done three construction projects together”, says Karon Sue. “We are not ready to retire. This is who we are! This is what we do!” She hopes to launch an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign soon to raise money for a new space.
The following is fiction & a wish for The Star City Playhouse:
The lights go up on a sunny, bright kitchen. Framed playbills of the 104 shows they have produced together are framed all over the walls. Marlow and Karon Sue are eating breakfast. Their three cats and their three dogs surround them. The phone starts ringing.
Karon Sue: Hello? Yes,…..this is she. You heard of our theater? (Excitedly. Repeating so Marlow can hear) You want to gift us with a downtown building? Downtown Theatre Lab? Yes! Yes! We can meet you this afternoon! (Writing down the address) Yes! 3:15. We’ll see you then. (Hanging up). Marlow! Did you hear?!
Marlow: (Sweetly smug-he knew it would work out the whole time) Ah! Nothing but happy endings for my redhead and me!
(The couple kiss and embrace becoming silhouetted in the kitchen window behind them with a view of the mountains as the stage dims and the window brightens and music swells.)
Crimes of the Heart
February 6-22, Fridays 7 PM, Saturday & Sundays 2 PM
Metropolitan Community Church806 Jamison Ave SE Reservations: 540.366.1446