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story.lead_photo.caption Mark Howard, left, and Cindy Gearhart, middle, rehearse on stage Tuesday with Steve Feldman for "One Foot in Heaven" which opens Jan. 23 at Stained Glass Theatre. Ken Barnes/News Tribune Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

The cast and crew of Stained Glass Theatre's newest production aren't shying away from tough topics. In fact, they've even recruited children to help tell the story.

Stained Glass Theatre is kicking off its 2020 "Season of Inspiration" Jan. 23 with a family-friendly comedy production of "One Foot in Heaven" directed by Denise Thoenen, Cheryl Belt and Robin Riley.

Based in 1910, the production follows the story of the Rev. William H. Spence, called to minister in a small town. Upon arrival, he's shocked to find a rundown, dilapidated parsonage and the church congregation split into "warring factions." He struggles to dismantle the racial prejudice that exists between members of the congregation while working to physically build the church.

Perhaps the biggest struggle is when prominent people within the congregation confront the Rev. Spence in an effort to get rid of the "foreigners" — Mexican families, Jews and Negros. (Thoenen said the play will use that term because of it's historical aspect.)

"This town is old school on a lot of things," Thoenen said of the play. "That's one of the challenges that this pastor has."

Despite the heavy topic, Thoenen said the cast works hard to keep the play funny and lighthearted.

The baby blue set, built by Mike Harvey, depicts the parsonage in near shambles for the first scene of the first act. There's white sheets over old furniture and plaster visible on the walls. Days before the play opened, a cast member had brought in an old, framed photo of her grandmother to add to the room.

It took several days to build and paint the set. Thoenen spent a portion of Tuesday evening spreading cobwebs to complete the look, and cast members young and old scurried about before rehearsal, some already dressed in their costumes. Most of the cast has acted before, but there's two new to the stage for this production, Thoenen said.

"They're just all really good. Even the new ones, that we have, I'm watching them build. That's an excitement to me," Thoenen said. "And that's so rewarding to watch these people start at nothing and then (see) the end product, knowing that what we're doing is ministering to our audience and bringing God's message."

Though the play is set in 1910 — and Harvey mentioned the theater first produced "One Foot in Heaven" nearly 10 years ago — Belt said it represents contemporary issues.

"It's so relevant to even today — the cultural issue, the discrimination issues as far as black, white, Mexican or whatever," Belt said. "God created us all the same, so we should all come together and love each other. (The show is about) that love to have for one another."

It's been an educational experience for members of the cast, too.

"Some of the younger ones may just now be realizing what it's about," Belt said. "It's really taught them too, as they went along. Like, 'Hey, this has existed for a long time, and we need to reach out to others that are being pushed aside.'"

Thoenen, who has directed three other plays so far, said the message of this play, and many others, is why she loves Stained Glass Theatre.

"That's why I love this theater so much — we are all Christians," Thoenen said. "We might have different denominations, but we're all one in Christ."

"This (play) brings the fact that it's OK to be different," she added.

The show will open at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 and will run until Feb. 1. Thursday and Friday shows will be at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee will be at 2 p.m. Saturdays. Opening night is $7 per person or $36 for a family pass. Tickets for all other shows are $10 each. For reservations, call 573-634-5313.

Stained Glass Theater is located at 830 E. High St.

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