Follow a 'Thread'

The cast of the original play "A Common Thread" are pictured Sunday, March 18, 2012 on the STEM Academy stage. Pictured in the foreground is Mariah Mihm.

The best ideas sometimes come at the oddest times.

Take Debi Neville's story of her Danish grandmother, for instance.

"About five years ago, I wrote a short story about my grandmother and her search for her brother," Neville said. "I was in a writers group and everyone said 'You have to do more with this.'"

She tried, but couldn't find the right approach.

"Then, one day I sat up in bed in the middle of the night and said, 'It's a play,'" she said. "Then I could see it in my head."


The result, after a year of research and writing is "A Common Thread," a stage play that will be presented this weekend in Austin, Rochester and Spring Valley. The play has ties to all three communities.

The story starts in the 1880s in Denmark and makes its way to southern Minnesota. It tells of one family's attempts to become whole again, to celebrate what they have, and to solve the mystery of what's missing.

"It's a memory play," Neville said. "It takes you back to the '60s, to perhaps a simpler time when families got together more often, when people weren't working so much on Sunday. Everything was closed on Sunday."

That's when Neville's extended family would usually gather at the family's Spring Valley-area farm for Sunday dinner, discussion and games. Those Sundays provide the setting for "A Common Thread."

"It takes place in 1961, approximately, on our farm in Spring Valley," Neville said.

But to tell the story of an extended family requires a lot of people, always a difficult proposition for local productions. "It's very difficult to have a big cast, and I have one," Neville said. "It's hard to find that many people. But I wanted it to feel like a big group on stage because I wanted the audience to see, 'Wow, look at all these people who showed up at that little farm.'"

Included in the cast is Neville's daughter, Mariah Mihm, who is coming from her home in California to play Neville's grandmother and great-grandmother.

The play also includes an original theme song composed by Maria Kujawa. Home movies from Neville's family will be used in some scenes.


As for Neville, she narrates the play. "I saw at the beginning that some of these memories are as clear as yesterday, and others have faded to a soft shade of gray," she said.

"The common thread is family," she said. "That's what holds us all together."

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