The Crabpot Players have become something of a tradition out on Isle of Palms.

The group sets up at the rec center a couple of times a year and puts on a show that sells out nearly every performance. Island kids play a lot of the parts, riding to rehearsal on their bikes or skateboards. Some of the adults get in on the act, too.

Over the past few years, the Players have done productions of "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Our Town." This fall, they put on "Catholic School Girls."

Jimmy Ward produces the whole thing, springing for script rights and sets out of his own pocket. For him, it's just wonderful fun. The rec center sells tickets for $5, and the city makes a little money for the center.

It's a really nice, old-fashioned form of entertainment, the kind of thing more places ought to do.

Too bad the city has, at least temporarily, shut the whole thing down.

Political play?

The city is worried about a conflict of interest.

You see, Ward was elected to City Council in November and is now technically one of nine bosses over all rec center and city employees. Linda Lovvorn Tucker, the city administrator, says some state laws and previous attorney general opinions suggest there could be a problem.

"The city has a responsibility to advise and protect members of council and the city," she says. "The city itself does not have an official position on the Crabpot Players."

But Tucker says it would be a shame to lose the popular theater shows.

Ward asked the State Ethics Commission about this, and it took Ethics attorneys about two hours to send him back a note that said they saw no problem whatsoever. But the city wants an attorney general opinion.

Islanders are pretty mad about the whole thing. They want the plays, think this is silly and perhaps even a bit of politics. That's because Ward was elected in a nearly clean sweep of incumbents after residents got tired of council trying to buy an oceanfront lot for a "park" and not doing enough to ease parking problems.

But Tucker says the city wants the theater to continue, and will find a way to make it work -- if the attorney general doesn't see a problem.

Show must go on

Ward is playing along good- naturedly, and sent Attorney General Alan Wilson a letter asking for an opinion last week. "I think they are smart to make sure everything is on the up and up," he says. "If I was getting paid, I'd understand it."

But he's not getting paid (he did once, but quit accepting money years ago); he's jumping through hoops to keep an island tradition alive. It's taking a toll. "If I'd known this, I wouldn't have run for council," Ward says.

Wilson's office, as busy as it is these days with certain state officials causing headaches, expects to put this to rest soon. It's probably too late for a spring production of the Crabpot Players, but perhaps they can come back with a summer show.

"Much Ado About Nothing" would be a good choice.