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SMITHFIELD — Outward appearances can be deceiving. At first glance, The Hut, as the former American Legion log cabin is known, doesn’t doesn’t look like a theater.
The Hut, located at 104 S. Front St. is across the road from another Smithfield landmark, The Little Brown Jug.
The Neuse Little Theatre, now in its 45th season, first appeared at The Hut in November 1975 with “A Thurber Carnival” in November 1975. The theater was founded the year before with performances at the Smithfield Public Library and the Smithfield-Selma High School auditorium.
Through the years, the acting troupe performed at a number of venues, from the Johnston County Courthouse to the Wilson’s Mills auditorium The Neuse Little Theatre, with the exception of an occasional run at Johnston Community College or Smithfield-Selma High, has called The Hut its permanent home in 1988 with its production of “The Foreigner” in April 1988.
The theater leases the building from the town of Smithfield. The town maintains the exterior of the building and property and the theater company is responsible for the inside of the building.
Joyce Kilpatrick-Jordan has been performing with the Neuse Little Theatre in 1977 when it performed “Carousel” at Johnston Community College’s Four Oaks campus. She’s a Smithfield native, a 1970 Smithfield-Selma High graduate. Kilpatrick-Jordan graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in philosophy. She retired from First Citizens Bank in Raleigh last Oct. 31.
“I’ve been involved on stage, behind the scenes and the box office,” said Kilpatrick-Jordan. “In the beginning, we performed in school gyms all over the county.”
She said the theater has made several improvements to The Hut since taking residence.
“We’ve added heat and air-conditioning, a bathroom, renovated the stage and added additional seats,” said Kilpatrick-Jordan. “In the beginning, The Hut was a wide-open space and we’d have to bring in chairs for the audience.”
Darius Rose, another longtime theater member, serves as the organization’s treasurer.
“We’re doing OK,” said Rose. “We try to be diverse, but the familiar musicals are the biggest draws.”
The theater performs five shows per year. From dramas to comedies to suspense and musicals, the Neuse Little Theatre tries to fill its 100-seat theater where there’s no bad seat in the house.
The board of directors reads through several plays before voting on the selections for each season.
“We take pride in being diverse,” said Kilpatrick-Jordan. “We try to appeal to a wide audience.”
Through the years, the productions have been a wide range of classics, including “Oklahoma,” “Inherit the Wind,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Show Boat, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
For Halloween, the theater has presented “Frankenstein,” “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Dracula.”
On Feb. 15-23, audiences will have a different theater expereince when the Neuse Little Theatre presents “Safe,” an adult dark comedy written by Tony Glazer and Anthony Ruivivar and directed by Neuse theater veteran Matt Gore.
In the play, five people are coerced into a bank vault during a violent robbery. Camaraderie gives way to conflict as the will to survive spawns paranoia and deception. “Safe” is recommended for older audiences due to language and adult themes.
Although there is vulgar language in the production, Gore said he removed 75 percent of it from the script because he’s sensitive to the tastes of the older theater patrons.
Gore said the production team has been working on “Safe” since Jan. 2 and the cast is in its fourth week of rehearsal. There are five cast members, who are on stage the whole time. Gore said three of the five actors are new to the Neuse Little Theatre.
“Hallie Hulse Evans of Goldsboro has performed with the Center Stage Theatre,” said Gore. “Ellen Walsh of Raleigh makes her theater debut and Michael Southern of the Raleigh/ Wake Forest area has performed with the Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest.”
Two returning Neuse Little Theatre cast members are Dan Ruffino and Mike Rumble.
“It’s less than two hours long. It’s kind of like a good Netflix movie that you weren’t expecting to be good.,” said Gore. “It’s like a good B-movie. The script reminds me of a B-movie — grimy, intense, with a distinct sense of humor. It might not be for everyone, but that’s why we do five shows a season.”
“Safe” performances are Feb. 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and at 3 p.m. on Feb, 17. Doors open 30 minutes before each performance.
For reservations, call 919-934-1873. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. Patrons can pay by cash or check only, with no debit or credit cards accepted.