By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
WARSAW, Ill. -- Linda Tracy doesn't hesitate in describing her character in an upcoming dessert/dinner theater production as "a real character."
Arbutus Worthington Dodds was the founding president, and basically curator, of the museum in the late 1860s in the town of Spunky Point, now known as Warsaw.
"She had quite a strong personality. She knew where every record was in the county," Tracy said. With a strong belief in the right of women to vote, "she was kind of ahead of her time. It's fun to play her. She's almost outrageous."
Tracy, who lives in Keokuk, Iowa, is part of the Spunky Point Players presenting "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning," a production based on Dean Gabbert's book of the same name, on July 23 and 24.
Gabbert, a long-time Nauvoo resident and river historian, is the playwright, assisted by Marilyn Candido and Debbie Callaghan.
"He takes history facts and creates characters that might have been," Candido said. "He's true to form when it comes to descriptions, what they may have been wearing, what boats were there, facts about the river."
The play, like the book, tells the story of Spunky Point from the late 1860s to the completion of the canal at Keokuk. It mentions many points, villages and towns as they existed along the stretch of the Mississippi River Rapids -- and with a mix of history and humor introduces the men who plied the river on steamboats and the women who loved them.
"The characters are sometimes a little over the top, but they are true to what was happening in Warsaw at the time," Tracy said.
The Mississippi River Power 100 Committee and Hancock County historical societies are sponsoring the production as a follow-up to last year's sold-out "Taming of the Rapids," presented for the centennial celebration of the Keokuk-Hamilton lock, dam and powerhouse. Tracy had a role in last year's production as well.
"This one has a little more comedy involved. The audiences will enjoy it for that reason," she said.
"We're kind of going around the county and celebrating the different towns," Callaghan said. "This year we're celebrating Spunky Point river history, and we wanted to celebrate Dean Gabbert as well. He will be 92 the day of the dessert theater."
The county's historical societies are working together on the theater productions as a way to support the committee's fundraising efforts toward a planned museum on the river. The players all volunteer their time and talent to the production.
"Their pay is the dessert and the dinner," Candido said. "They love what they do and love history."
Candido said the production combines education and entertainment and draws inspiration from an old hymn.
"These rivermen go and work, like any people today, and become enthralled with the work life, become workaholics," Candido said. "By the end, the characters realize it's important to do good, be good, have good relationships, take care of one another."
The Hancock County Historical Societies and Mississippi River Power 100 Committee will present "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning" on July 23 and 24. The July 23 dessert theater begins at 6 p.m. at the Bott Center, 705 Lafayette in Warsaw. The dinner theater on July 24 begins at 6 p.m. at Meyer's Courtyard, 629 Blondeau in Keokuk.
Dessert theater tickets are $15. Reservations are available by calling historical society members Marilyn Candido at 309-221-8992 or Debbie Callaghan at 217-219-1188 and available at Hill-Dodge Bank in Warsaw.
Tickets for the dinner theater are $30 for the main dining area and $50 for balcony seating. Reservations are available by calling Kirk Brandenburger, Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Director, at 319-524-5599, and tickets also are available at the tourism office, Hy-Vee and Keasling's Pharmacy and Gift in Keokuk and First State Bank of Illinois in Hamilton.