'Greatest story' told with song


FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. -- This week, Ray Ficca is once again able to apply his theology degree to his work on stage.

As the storyteller in Totem Pole Playhouse's "Cotton Patch Gospel," Ficca transforms himself into more than 20 biblical roles, backed by a five-piece bluegrass band.

The show, which is based on the Gospel of Matthew, opens Saturday and runs through Sunday, June 14.

Ficca earned his bachelor's degree in theology from Georgetown University in 1989. He found that his real calling was a pulpit of a different kind -- a theater stage. So in 1991 he graduated from the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Washington, D.C.

Today, Ficca has more than 100 professional stage credits on his résumé, and is the artistic director of Totem Pole Playhouse.


Ficca said "Cotton Patch Gospel" is simply "the greatest story ever told."

"The message of the story of the gospel is to love one another," he said. "... and that never gets old."

Written by Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist scholar, "Cotton Patch Gospel" was originally a book adaptation of most of the New Testament.

Ficca said Jordan wrote the gospel to help his rural Georgia community to understand the Bible, because most couldn't read or write.

Jordan adapted the New Testament to settings and situations his neighbors could grasp. Jerusalem became Atlanta and Bethlehem became Gainesville, Ga.

The show was adapted into a one-man play by Tom Key and Russell Treyz. They later turned to singer-songwriter Harry Chapin to adapt the show into a musical.

Ficca knows the show well. He performed "Cotton Patch Gospel" in 2003 and again this year at Wayside Theatre in Middletown, Va. This will be the first time he'll perform the show on the Totem Pole Playhouse stage.

"An actor lives to tell a story and this is such a great story. You never get tired of it," he said. "... Every night you perform it you know that you're telling a wonderful message. And you know, I couldn't say that for every show I do."

If you go ...

WHAT: "Cotton Patch Gospel"

WHEN: Saturday, May 30, run Tuesdays through Sundays to June 14. Shows are 2:30 and 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Totem Pole Playhouse, junction of U.S. 30 and Pa. 233 south, Fayetteville, Pa.

COST: Tickets cost $13 to $46. Call 717-352-2164 or 888-805-7056 or go to

MORE: There will be an informal discussion following the June 10 performance.

Children younger than 5 are not admitted to Totem Pole Playhouse.

Totem Pole schedule

o "You Say Tomatoes" -- Tuesday, June 16 to Sunday, June 28; informal discussion following June 18 performance

o "I Hate Hamlet" -- Tuesday, June 30 to Sunday, July 12; informal discussion following July 9 performance

o "The Queen of Bingo" -- Tuesday, July 14 to Sunday, July 26; informal discussion following July 24 performance

o "Tuesdays with More" -- Tuesday, July 28 to Sunday, Aug. 9; informal discussion following Aug. 8 performance

o "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!" -- Tuesday, Aug. 11 to Sunday, Aug. 23; informal discussion following Aug. 14 performance

o Special event: "Hamlet!?! I Don't Understand!" -- A film version of "Hamlet" with discussions about Shakespeare. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23. Cost is $5 for general admission.

For show times, call 1-888-805-7056

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