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The ladies of Dearly Departed prepare for the fifth and final performance of the fall show.
Saturday night's closing performance of "Dearly Departed" was both a time of joy and a time of sorrow for Carlsbad Community Theater's performers. After the closing performance of the fall show, the actors and crew members came together for one last cast party with their director, Randy Milligan. As a token of their appreciation for all that Milligan has done, the group signed and framed a program and presented it to their director after the show.

Milligan, who is also a theater, drama and speech teacher at New Mexico State University-Carlsbad, has been active in many roles at CCT for more than 16 years. Not only has he directed 10 shows at the theater, but he has also frequented the stage as an actor and served as CCT's vice president. But when Milligan announced that his wife recently accepted a job in Washington, D.C., CCT participants knew the end was near.

According to Milligan in an interview before Saturday's production, "Dearly Departed" was a good note to end on. The show involved a 12-member cast that Milligan had worked with twice before, and the "Dearly Departed" actors had become like family, said Milligan.

This show's actors were also deemed "one of the nicest groups I've ever worked with" by Bob Scholl, who has been a part of CCT for the last 42 years as an actor and director. In "Dearly Departed," Scholl played the part of Bud Turpin, who is described as "just mean and right surly" by his wife of 39 years after he falls forward into his oatmeal and dies of a stroke at the breakfast table.


Aside from the familiar cast, Milligan also had many others reasons for liking the show. "It's funny," he said. "I like the humorous look at serious matters like death and family."

And this show's cast understood all about death and family. Two cast members said goodbye to loved ones this season, and Milligan himself almost lost his mother-in-law during the first few weeks of rehearsals.

"It's bizarre how death has come so close to this show. Art imitating life," Milligan said. "But we can still laugh. That's how you get through hard times. You laugh so you don't cry." And laugh they did. The cast and crew of "Dearly Departed" presented a comical show about grave, real-life issues like adultery, miscarriage, financial destitution and the death of a loved one. But this "humorous look at serious matters," as Milligan put it, allowed the audience to put aside all of their outside troubles for two hours and get lost in the irony of the show.

The first half of the show involved the unveiling of dishonesty and many nasty spats between family members, but after intermission, the characters were able to reveal family values they'd learned as a result of the death of their husband, brother and father, Bud Turpin. Above all, the play's characters learned that families stick together, no matter what.

"Burying somebody sucks. Even though it ("Dearly Departed") involves death, there's still an upturn to it all. It's upbeat," said cast member Russell Elyasevich, who admittedly got started at CCT to show his wife that he could take an interest in her activities. Elyasevich's portrayal of Royce, "a drinking, smoking degenerate," as the actor himself described his character, provided much of the comic relief in the play. "It was a good show for a town like this," said Pam Cox, who played Lucille Turpin, a grieving daughter-in-law in the show. "It pushes the edges, which I like."

CCT has a number of other shows coming up that are sure to attract audiences again and again. CCT actors will once more hit the stage for Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," in November, and the critically acclaimed "The Sisters Rosensweig" and "Calendar Girls" will be showing in the spring of 2013.

Shows like this and others have been drawing audiences and actors alike to the little community theater on National Parks Highway since its beginnings. When Cox first moved to Carlsbad in 2010, she saw CCT's musical performance of "Oklahoma" and immediately fell in love with the theater. "I love this place," she said.

And Cox is not the only one. Many other Carlsbad locals have been involved with CCT during its 51 seasons, and it has become near and dear to their hearts as well.

Milligan is one of them. "It's sad," he said about his upcoming move. "We have deep roots here."

But though he admitted it will be hard to leave, he also divulged that he is not quite finished at CCT. He has promised to finish out the year and have one last hoorah at CCT as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge in next month's adaption of "A Christmas Carol."