Ceely returns to Malabar tonight

Carl Hunnell, who plays prosecutor Augustus Douglas, yells at Jacqueline Allen, the mother, telling her to hold her tongue as he questions Jennifer Casner, Ceely, while Michael Neff, the doctor, sits at the kitchen table during a Wednesday night rehearsal at Malabar Farm.



LUCAS — Malabar Farm’s latest production of “Ceely” features an intriguing lead character.

Not only does Jennifer Casner bear a strong resemblance to the famous murderess, but the Centerburg actress also recently learned about an interesting personal connection.

Casner said Guy Berry, the man the real Ceely killed her family for, has a great-great-great nephew who married her aunt.

“It’s pretty weird, but sort of cool,” Casner said. “I’ve done a lot of research to get the feeling of Ceely. I play her with a very child-like essence. She didn’t choose to be born like that, but that was just the way she was.”

The big barn at Malabar Farm marks the perfect setting for Mark Jordan’s latest production of “Ceely,” which premieres tonight at 7.

Nearby sits the two-story white house where, in 1896, Ceely Rose killed her family with rat poison.

“This is the fifth time we’ve put on this show and we’ve done a few tweaks, but essentially it’s the same script,” said Jordan, the play’s author and director. “This cast is doing great. One of the most fascinating things as a writer is to see five different versions of your work. Each cast sheds new light and brings out something new.”

Scott Schag, 24, plays Guy Berry.

“He and Ceely were neighbors and she falls in love with him, but he doesn’t feel the same,” the Shelby man said. “Guy was pretty laid-back person who is just sort of a victim of all that happened.”

Like Casner, Schag said he also spent time researching his character.

“I really think this show is appealing to all ages,” Schag said. “These people were my age when all of this was happening. Ceely was 20. It’s sort of like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ gone bad.”

Carl Hunnell, of Lexington, plays prosecutor Augustas Douglas, who was the Richland County prosecutor in 1896.

“The only thing I really know is that he had a big, bushy mustache,” Hunnell said. “There wasn’t a lot written about him. When he first heard about this, he thought it was a simple case of food poisoning, which turned out not to be the case.

“He was up for re-election at the time and knew that if he screwed this up, his political career would be over.”

Jacqueline Allen plays Ceely’s mother.

“She’s the rock of the family and loves her daughter dearly,” Allen said. “She tries desperately to help her daughter and tells her that she will always be there for her.”

Jordan said there are guests who have come year after year to see the play.

“I would like to see people engage history because we can learn a lot about ourselves when we learn about our past,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of timeless human issues that I think will capture people’s hearts.”

Hunnell added: “It’s a great story to tell — and it happened just over the hill.”