'Truth in Cold Blood'

"Truth in Cold Blood," a new play at the Dock Street Theatre, opens Wednesday. Shown here in rehearsal are (from left) Richard Futch, director; Robin Burke as Bishop William A. Guerry; Daniel Jones as the Rev. James Blackwood; Bradley Keith as the Rev. Albert S. Thomas; and Teralyn Tanner as Henrietta Postell Jervey.

he new play "Truth in Cold Blood" is a true Charleston story, deeply rooted in the search for racial equality, the Episcopal Church and the murder of a bishop by another priest.

The story comes from a time in 1928 when racial equality was the dividing issue within the church, and the Bishop William Alexander Guerry was deeply committed to serving both black and white Episcopalians within one community.

Guerry was working to have a black bishop elected to minister to black Episcopalians because he believed that all people, regardless of race, were part of the community of Christ in the Diocese of South Carolina.

He was a man ahead of his time and he paid for it with his life. He was shot by another priest who was as deeply committed and thought Guerry's point of view would root out white supremacy in the South. Then the man turned the gun on himself.

The church secretary found them both.

Five days later, Guerry died in Roper Hospital, forgiving the man who shot him. But his story, rather than being a rallying cry for equality faded into obscurity.

Now the story of Guerry, his murder and the religious turmoil of that time has been put into a play, "Truth in Cold Blood," at the Dock Street Theatre, just steps from his old office at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, and his burial site in the church's cemetery.

The Rev. Calhoun Walpole, vicar of Grace Episcopal Church and archdeacon of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, has been fascinated, awed and inspired by Guerry's story since she was in seminary at Sewanee.

She had always known the story because his son, Edward Guerry, was her minister while she was growing up on Johns Island. But she began to question why someone would be so driven to kill a man who was seeking truth for all people. And why was this story so forgotten.

The story haunted her, first as a young priest at Pawleys Island. The author William Baldwin of McClellanville, helped her with some of the research.

Later in 2007, she preached a sermon about Guerry and the story ignited the congregation's interest in it. In 2008, she helped Sewanee professors write an article about it.

In 2009, Walpole asked local attorney Thomas Tisdale to see if a play on the subject could be written. She felt like the drama of the story could best be told through that art form.

After working with other writers, Tisdale, who also serves as chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, decided to write it himself.

"I felt as if this story was dying to be told," Walpole said. Guerry wrote about truth being organic and living and part of our search for God, she said. His writings resonate with the current problems facing the church.

He wrote in 1914: "We should strive for unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is mechanical, barren, unfruitful and unprofitable. Unity is organic, living and capable of endless growth. If we are to be truly catholic, as Christ himself is catholic, then we must have a church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living human soul."

The play is being directed by Richard Futch of Unity Productions, who has assembled a cast of 19 actors to bring the production to life. He has directed more than 40 stage productions in New York, Connecticut, Florida and locally. Futch also has served as casting director for more than 100 film and commercial projects, including most recently the Lifetime television series "Army Wives."

He started trying to find a date for the production at the Dock Street more than a year ago.

He says the details are historically accurate and take the audience from 1928 to the present time. They have tried to be sensitive that this is living history and family members of those involved could see the play.

"The only thing that is not true about this play is the name of the assassin," said Futch. "We wanted to protect the family who lives in Georgia."

Tickets for all five performances of "Truth in Cold Blood" will be available beginning Monday at the Dock Street Theatre box office, 135 Church St. in downtown Charleston.

The play premieres at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Dock Street and will be followed by a reception at Hibernian Hall. Tickets for the premiere are $75.

Additional performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Regular tickets are $40.

For more information, call the Dock Street Theatre at 509-0286.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557.