Two years ago on an off-Broadway stage, a pair of actors played a young couple in 1960, starting their married life in a tree house near Lithia Springs. The bride had lost the use of her legs to polio. The groom was an aspiring preacher.
In the audience were Judy and Ervin Hudson. She had lost the use of her legs to polio in 1959. He came from a long line of preachers. They lived most of their lives in rural Valrico, in a home that everyone in the neighborhood knew because of its prominent tree house.
It wasn't a coincidence. The play, The Sweet Storm, was written by their son Scott Hudson, and he drew inspiration for his characters and their story from his parents' lives.
There were differences. The real-life couple never lived in the tree house, and Judy Hudson actually contracted polio three weeks after their wedding. But the Hudsons saw themselves in those characters.
"The thing is, we were looking back and they were looking ahead," Mrs. Hudson said.
The Sweet Storm is Scott Hudson's first play. Its off-Broadway run two years ago was a hit with audiences and critics. The New York Times called it "a gentle wisp of a love story (that) stays with you like the freshness following a summer cloudburst."
Tampa Bay area audiences are getting their first chance to see the play, which runs for the next two weeks at the Gorilla Theatre in Tampa. The director is James Rayfield, who was Scott's drama teacher at Brandon High School in the 1980s. (Judy and Ervin Hudson also attended Brandon High.)
Scott Hudson has seen the Gorilla Theatre production and was thrilled with the work of his mentor Rayfield and actors Chris Jackson and Heather Atkinson. His parents will come down from Gainesville, where they moved 10 years ago, to see it before it closes. (A talk-back with the playwright is scheduled for Sunday, immediately after the performance.)
The play takes place on the couple's wedding night as Hurricane Donna approaches. Scott Hudson said he relied on his parents for insight into the era and the characters.
In the play's opening scene, the bride coyly says she has to "wee." It's not the word Scott Hudson used in the original script, but his mother told him that is the word she would have used at that point in her life.
Ervin Hudson said that his son had gotten the essence of the scene just right. Like the groom in the play, he often has had to help his wife use a bedpan but always saw it more as an honor than an unpleasant duty.
"I realized that God had chosen me to take care of her," he said.
Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.rr.com.