Newspaper story inspires playwright

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Cast members rehearse lines during play rehearsal for ‘Seven Bridges Road’ on Thursday at Nash Arts Center in Nashville.


Staff Writer

Friday, September 7, 2018

A new play written by a Rocky Mount playwright and inspired by a story in the Rocky Mount Telegram opens tonight at the Nash Arts Center.

The play, entitled “Seven Bridges Road,” was written by established playwright Marilynn Barner Anselmi.

Amselmi said she was moved to write the play after reading an article in the Telegram about how the investigation of the fates of two female crime victims were treated differently.

“I read a newspaper story written by Lindell Kay back in the spring,” Anselmi said. “The story sort of juxtaposed two crime stories together. I was interested in how differently justice was meted out in these cases and the comparison struck me as intrinsically theatrical. I write a lot about social justice issues, but I am especially interested in portraying how this plays out on a personal level.”

Anslemi said she reached out to Kay and met with him to discuss the cases. She was amazed at the amount of research he had done on the story.

“Lindell was excited about the idea of turning the story into a play and was very generous in sharing with me the copious amount of research that he has done,” Anselmi said.

After reading Kay’s research and looking at others sources, Anselmi began to write a fictionalized account of an imaginary meeting of two relatives connected with the victims in the article.

“In the play, my two main characters are the daughter of the white woman that was murdered and the mom of one of the missing black women, though that encounter never happened in real life, as far as I know.” Anselmi said. “I tried to reach out to the families personally, but I could not get up with them, so the background of my play relies on the newspaper accounts and a few televised interviews with family members.”

Anselmi is already an established playwright. Another one of her plays, “You Wouldn’t Expect,” will premiere off-Broadway later this month at the Chain Theatre in New York City. 

As far as the “Seven Bridges Road” play, Anselmi said she had no anticipation of getting the play produced locally.

“A lot of times that does not happen because the story is too close to home,” Anslemi said. “But we did a reading earlier in the spring and received a lot of interest. Shelly Gray, director of the  Nash County Arts Council, was familiar with my work and supported the idea of putting on the play locally.”

The play is already slated to be staged later in September at a festival in Tennessee and in February at a festival in southern California.

Kay said he was glad to have inspired someone creatively by his news account. However, Anselmi is not the only one he inspired. Kay said he already has been approached by a documentary filmmaker about the story.

“It feels good for Marilynn to take my work and turn it into something emotionally gripping,” Kay said. “I've read the script. She really gets into the heart of it. I'm proud of the work I've done and it's gratifying to see something I've done on stage — but the real benefit here is that the story stays in the news, stays in front of folks.”

Kay has about a dozen years of experience covering crime in Eastern North Carolina, working at papers in Wilmington and Jacksonville before coming to the Telegram. He has also been writing about his special interest, missing persons and unsolved murders, for over a decade.

Kay said he was especially drawn to these stories because there were other cases that occurred about the same time as these cases but aren’t directly related to Seven Bridges Road. Kay is still haunted by the mysteries surrounding those cases as well.

“This story is one of the reasons I took the job at the Telegram and moved here four years ago. I read about it when it was happening and thought it was so compelling. Over time, as I've gotten to know some of the families and detectives involved in the case, I've become emotionally invested,” Kay said,

For Kay, the play is just another way of keeping the story in the public eye.

“The important thing for me is that we keep the women in the spotlight as much as possible. There's a lot more to be done on this case. I know certain elements want to forget it, but how can you forget so many victims? A city that forgets its murder victims is lost,” Kay said.

The play opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Nash Arts Center in Nashville and will be presented again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night with a 2 p.m. matinee showing on Sunday. The play will also run at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 14 and 15 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 16.