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Charleston Daily Mail via AP, Craig Cunningham
This Friday, June 19, 2015 shows U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin, center right, made a cameo appearance in the play “Honey in the Rock” at the Cliffside Amphitheatre in Grandview, W.Va. He later described how 51 years ago he came on stage and introduced himself as the character David Morgan, and how the experience affected his life.

GRANDVIEW, W.Va. — A tattered, tea-stained prop Mexican flag hangs on a cabin on stage for the performance of the classic outdoor drama "Honey in the Rock."

However, it's not just any old prop flag.

It's a beloved memento, symbolizing U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin's former life as an actor, when he played the role of David Morgan 51 years ago. And to Scott Hill, general manager of Theatre West Virginia, it's a symbol of rebirth.

On a warm, cloudy Friday night, Theatre West Virginia kicked off its 55th season, the first full season it's had for a few years. However, this time, the classic tale began a bit differently.

Goodwin stepped out of the cabin and walked across the stage, while the rest of the actors froze where they were standing.

"Fifty-one years ago, I stood on this spot introducing myself as David Morgan for the first time," Goodwin told the audience at the Cliffside Amphitheatre in Grandview, near Beckley. "A third of the state's history has passed since then. Many David Morgans have come and gone since then."

As he spoke, his wife Kay sat in the front row, watching her husband and smiling. Goodwin then delivered a familiar speech, the same one he delivered 51 years ago.

"We are West Virginia, a part of it at least," Goodwin said. "I'm David Morgan out of the 1860s. We are here to tell you a story — a strange and wonderful story — a story of this land, of mountains washed down smooth by the beating grinding eons of time, hills and valleys, cliffs and bottoms and underneath it all, the honey in the rock. We are here to tell you tonight how this, our land, became the 35th state in the United States. It was a destructive and difficult time. We are here on April 12, 1861."

"Thank you, your honor," actor Richard Isemonger said as he walked across the stage, introducing himself as David Morgan.

As the story goes, Morgan was in the Mexican war and he was given the flag because he was a war hero. He sent it to his father, John Morgan, who displayed the flag on his son's birthday.

"It speaks to fathers' and sons' relationships and how that the dad could be so proud of his son and can't say it sometimes. So, he has to use the flag as a way to say he's really proud of his son," Hill explained.

The flag is later taken away by evil forces and is returned when everything is made right.

"It's not only a piece of fabric," Hill said. "It's a story of the family. That particular flag has some significance to the Goodwins and to us too. Things have changed and the flag has been returned for this season."

And Theatre West Virginia has been through some struggles as well. In September 2013, the board voted to close the facility, he said. Hill said when they made the decision, they had quite a few debts and some assets. Buildings, cars and other items were sold. Luckily, he said they didn't have to sell their theatre assets, such as sound equipment, lights and costuming.

He was later invited to try and form a new board in December 2013 and with a lot of help from the community, he helped get a season going.

Hill said it's a tale of how the community came together. He said radio stations stepped out and gave them time on the air, businesses donated storage areas and United Bank later gave them space for their office.

"We were pretty much at zero in January of last year," Hill recalled. "We just asked for volunteers and we had a lot of people help us out. We had a lot of donations and were able to limp along and then the folks started to come into the show.

Last year, they did 17 performances of "Hatfield and McCoys" and this year, they're back to a full season, he said. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday to celebrate their 55th season.

"Here we are, we're back," he said.

To celebrate its rebirth, the director spoke with Kay Goodwin, and asked if the family still had the flag from back when Joseph was in the show.

"We asked if we could use it again because it's a significant part of our future, of our progress," Hill said. "At Theatre West Virginia, we always have one hand in the past. We always have one eye looking back to all the folks who made it possible. This was a way to say, 'Hey, in 1964, this gentleman was 21 years old and he presented this flag and kept it this long.' He was in that play in the second year of the whole thing.' He's made his way through life and now wants to bring it back full circle."

Joseph admitted he doesn't get many opportunities for theatrics as a federal judge.

"Being a federal judge and an actor is yin and yang, isn't it," he said.

"Well, you do read the instructions so beautifully," Kay told him.

Joseph laughed.

"Well, you do," Kay said. "Your courtroom demeanor is very impressive."

He laughed again, saying, "That's something my wife would say."

He lived a much different life before deciding to practice law. He and his wife met at West Virginia University where they were both theater majors.

In the summer of 1964, he played in "Honey in the Rock." He said he planned to go back home to earn money since he and Kay were going to get married. Then, he heard about the auditions.

"I wrote on the try-out sheet, rather boldly, saying I won't take anything but the lead, which is ridiculous," Goodwin said laughing. "But I got it."

"I thought it was fun. I thought it was a great thing for West Virginia. I still do," he later added. "They've had some troubles in the recent years but I'm hopeful that this renewal this year will present a new era of success for Theatre West Virginia."

After spending a couple of years in the Army, he said he realized acting wasn't for him.

"I had enough self awareness after a couple of years in the Army to realize I wasn't talented enough to earn my living as an actor," he said.

Goodwin's father was a lawyer and at that time, his brother was in law school and persuaded him over the phone to pay the $50 to take the LSAT.

"I said, 'That's ridiculous. No one would let anyone into law school who had a 2.3 average in theater."

But he took the test, and ended up practicing law for 25 years and was nominated for the federal bench, where he has worked for 20 years. Friday was his first time back on the stage.

"In a perfect bookend to my tryout sheet, I said I would only go if I could say the opening lines for the show, which they ended up arranging," Joseph said.

"The thing that struck me most about this is that I stood there on stage 51 years ago and introduced myself as this character," he later said. "And here I am. I was a 21-year-old actor and now, I'm a federal judge."

Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.charlestondailymail.com