Perhaps two doltish, exorbitantly lazy bandits aren't the best people to raise a child.

This is just one of the lessons learned in "The Ransom of Red Chief," the latest play by the Company of Strangers Theater.

It opens Friday at Appomattox Courthouse Theatre and continues the Company of Strangers' mission to bridge the gap between secular plays and Christianity through an analysis of a script's subject matter.

"We would like the audience to sit and engage their minds while they're watching," said Jessica Sosnoski, the play's director. "Instead of just passive entertainment."

A relatively new theater group, the Company of Strangers was started in 2009 by Jessica and her now-husband, James.

"I was a theater major at the time," James Sosnoski said over the phone last week. "I looked at the way community theater was done in Lynchburg and saw there was an opening in the area."

Unique to the company is their approach to analyzing Christian morals within the context of traditional plays.

"There are two camps of Christianity: there's one where [plays are] evil unless it's straight from scripture or historical, and the other camp is anything goes on the stage as long as you pray before it," Jessica said.

"There has to be a medium." The middle ground they've found is to begin each production with the director or a cast member reading a breakdown of the characters, the plot and how it relates to the audience's life. The same is done at intermission, with an analysis of the upcoming conclusion.

Past productions have included "Candida" and "A Doll's House," the latter of which focused on problems that arise during marriage and gender roles in society.

"Problems like that don't just go away," James said. "What we did with that play is we brought [the problems] out and pointed out some specific things for the audience to look at. ... It's more bringing out the humanity of the characters, and there are a lot of moral lessons that can be gleaned from that."

Jessica said she doesn't like to choose plays that have a clear-cut message.

"[That's] too easy," she said." [I] never choose a play with an analysis in mind. I will choose a play and say 'How can I do this?' Because it's engaging my mind as well."

In "Ransom of Red Chief," two dim-witted bandits and one hell-raising child make for a humorously thought-provoking tale. The loafing swindlers decide to kidnap a wealthy landowner's young nephew, Red Chief, only to realize he's more than they can or want to handle. In a comical turn of events, the roles are reversed when the two men wind up paying the moneyed uncle just to get rid of the spoiled child.

Jessica said she hopes to offer a bit of social commentary on both the bandits and Red Chief.

"I'm going along the lines of the two men's work ethic and how being lazy and not willing to work yourself will turn its head on you," says Jessica. "As well as from Red Chief's perspective, where lack of proper guidance in a child will yield this terrible fruit."

The Company of Strangers only puts on two productions per year but hopes to delve into full-length productions of Shakespeare, Jessica's favorite, soon.

Says the director: "Next summer, I really, really want to do 'Macbeth."

Contact Florian Overfelt at (434) 385-5427 or

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