"Fireflies" - by Matthew Barber - Gateway Players (Southbridge, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Jim Douglas and Gail White in a scene from Matthew Barber's "FIREFLIES" from Gateway Players in Southbridge, MA. now playing through May 7, 2023. Photo Courtesy Gateway Players)

Kevin T. Baldwin 

METRMag Reviewer 

# 774-242-6724

"Wasps and mockers. Frogs and flies. Texas is downright biblical in the summertime."

                                                                                                        - Matthew Barber

The Gateway Players  

Presents Matthew Barber's


Written by Matthew Barber

From the novel "Eleanor and Abel" by Annette Sanford

Directed by David Corkum

Produced by Bill Guy 

Cast Includes: Jim Douglas, John Golden, Carol Allard Vancil, and Gail White.

Additional Creative Team:

Diane Servant - Stage Manager; Lou-Ellen Corkum, Bill Guy - Tickets; Ed Humphries - Lighting Technician; Mike Dupuis - Sound Technician; Simone Germain - Set Mural Painting; David M. Corkum - Lighting, Sound and Set Design; Robert Lamothe, Shawn Corkum, John Turpin, Bill Guy - Set Construction; Chris McTigue, Erin Morin, Sue and Allen Adams, Linda Bouthillier, Pat and Stewart Haddock, Jeanne Dupuis - House.  


April 28, 29, May 5, 6 & 7, 2023

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)   

Fellowship Hall of Elm Street Congregational Church, 61 Elm Street in Southbridge, MA. Entrance is on Park Street (around corner).


$15 for adults and $13 for seniors and youth under 18.

Online credit card ticket sales are available at gateway-players.ticketleap.com/fireflies/

For more information call 508-764-4531.   


Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

Presented by permission through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 

Gateway Players presents the heartwarming tale "FIREFLIES" and it is a genuine pleasure from beginning to end.

Oh, sure, it may not have princesses, witches, cow puppets and a Sondheim score, but the two-act play by Matthew Barber (developed from a story by Annette Sanford) certainly has characters that will make the hardest of skeptics believe love can happen even late in life and keep you totally engaged as the story unfolds.

The original production of "FIREFLIES" premiered in 2017 featuring Jane Alexander, Judith Ivey, Denis Arndt and Christopher Michael McFarland.

"FIREFLIES" has humor, sensitivity, poignancy, compassion - and an element of mystery which will keep you continuously guessing well into Act Two.

The story centers on Eleanor (Gail White) a retired schoolteacher who lives a solitary, lonely life in the house her family built. 

Eleanor lives in the community of Groverdell, Texas in Jackson County. It is 1995 and the town population is purported to be 1,742.

As the sun rises and falls each day, Eleanor's own typical day is just that - "typical." 

She has her daily routines - laundry, cleaning, sorting through clothes - all designed to keep herself busy. Lately, those routines don't seem to be as effective at deflecting the absence of...something...in Eleanor's life.

In Groverdell, Eleanor has gained a certain level of prestige with her legacy as the town’s most respected former teacher.

However, while she hasn't been called this to her face, Eleanor is also what some might derogatorily consider a "spinster."

White gives a sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of Eleanor - not allowing her sequestered existence to come across as overly maudlin.

(Photo: Carol Allard Vancil and Gail White in a scene from Matthew Barber's "FIREFLIES" from Gateway Players in Southbridge, MA. now playing through May 7, 2023. Photo Courtesy Gateway Players)

Yet, Eleanor is very much alone. 

That sense of loneliness seems to be growing more significant with each passing day, as of late - and the latest stretch of hot Texas weather is only serving to make matters far more unpleasant and uncomfortable for Eleanor.

Attached to her own property, Eleanor has a "guest house" she uses as a rental property and, during this particular hot spell, the house gains some "air conditioning" - in the form of a skateboard-sized hole in the roof. The roof needs to be repaired.

Into Eleanor's life walks Abel Brown (Jim Douglas), a charismatic drifter who offer to repair the hole in the roof and perform other much needed household repairs for Eleanor.

Abel is charming but Eleanor's dearest friend, Grace (Carol Allard Vancil) cautions Eleanor to be suspicious of his intentions.

Vancil infuses the character of Grace with a wonderfully dry wit and an unflinching loyalty to her friend, Eleanor. 

(Photo: John Golden in a scene from Matthew Barber's "FIREFLIES" from Gateway Players in Southbridge, MA. now playing through May 7, 2023. Photo Courtesy Gateway Players)

Yet, just what ARE Abel's "intentions"?

Is he a drifter? A grifter? A little of both? Or, perhaps, neither? 

No one in this tiny gossipy town seems to know anything for sure when it comes to the mysterious Abel. 

A few things are clear - Abel is affable and is definitely smitten with Eleanor, who is hesitant to allow Abel to "breach" her heavily guarded heart and her capacity to trust.

Douglas presents Abel as casual, even-tempered and amiable. Yet, Abel is also a man equally hesitant to share his story with anyone, including Eleanor. 

The portrayal keeps one on their guard to see if suspicions prove out as to some nefarious intent by Abel or if, in the end, the only thing Abel truly wants to steal is Eleanor's heart. 

Eleanor asks a former "pupil," Eugene (John Golden), who is now a police officer, to run a background check on Abel during a pivotal moment in the story.

The dialogue exchanges between Golden and White during this scene offers up some of the show's sweetest moments, showing us some insight as to the kind of relationship Eleanor had with her students/pupils.

(Photo: Jim Douglas and Gail White in a scene from Matthew Barber's "FIREFLIES" from Gateway Players in Southbridge, MA. now playing through May 7, 2023. Photo Courtesy Gateway Players)

Under the show's fine direction by David Corkum, the story flows seamlessly with minimal time required for set redress. There are also some interesting lighting choices made for a fantasy sequence occurring near the end of Act One.

The plot would easily make for a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, but it is Barber's cleverly written banter, flowing with great ease between all the character exchanges, which elevates the otherwise rather routine premise.

The single set design of a lovely kitchen, complete with a refrigerator and stove, maximizes effective use of the space at the Gateway stage located in the Fellowship Hall of Elm Street Congregational Church without feeling crowded and might otherwise limit the blocking required.

"FIREFLIES" continues in Southbridge until May 7th and is definitely a "must see."

Approximately one hour, 35 minutes with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 




Retired schoolteacher Eleanor Bannister lives a quiet life. 

Alone in tiny Groverdell, Texas, Eleanor is set in her routines and secure in her position as the town’s most respected woman.

That is until a hole in her roof draws the attention of Abel Brown, a smooth-talking drifter intent on renovating Eleanor’s house, and possibly her life. 

Can the unexpected sparks of late-life romance be trusted, or is there truth in the gossip that Abel isn’t all that he seems to be? 

Either way, the whole town is talking.


Gateway Players Theatre, Inc. is an all-volunteer community theater providing quality live theatre performances and workshops to Southbridge, Sturbridge, and Charlton, Massachusetts and surrounding areas. Gateway Players Theatre, Inc. started in 1975, when a group of interested community members decided that Southbridge needed a theater group to bring live productions to the area. First using local schools and borrowed rehearsal and storage space, Gateway then moved into its current home in 1978, when Ruth Wells (of the American Optical Company Wells family) donated her home on Main Street as a cultural center in Southbridge. Gateway offers a full season of productions, usually performed at Elm Street Congregational Church, 61 Elm Street, Southbridge, MA, as well as workshops for youths and adults. Auditions are open to all, and new members are always welcome.

Gateway Players Theatre, Inc.

PO Box 171

Southbridge, MA 01550