The writer of a Western-style dinner-and-drama production to unfold in Hope this weekend refuses to be lassoed into totally claiming the work is entirely hers.

“I can’t take a lot of the credit for it,” said Hope resident Rena Blake Dillman, author of four books. “I believe it’s God-given.”

She and organizers of the presentation of “The Cowboy and the Jean Skirt” hope audiences at WILLow LeaVes of Hope find the story of love lost and found a touching and entertaining one, according to Dillman. Just seeing her novel by that name come to life on the local stage means plenty.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Dillman said of the story adapted as a three-act play by longtime friend David Webster of Hope. “I’ve got to pinch myself.”

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The first Dillman work that Webster adapted was her short-story collection that became “Letters of Forgiveness” in February 2014.

It sold out every 100-seat show — with a heart-melting message right in the middle of an icy winter storm.

Vickie Tedder, one of WILLow LeaVes’ owners, said she hopes the dinner-theater concept remains as popular as ever, since other past productions sold out, too. But she mentioned that she does not yet have access to the same email list as Strawberry Fields/Auntie Aimee’s Country Tea Room, the previous tenant in the shop.

“So we’re not quite filling up as fast as we have before,” Tedder said.

“The Cowboy & The Jean Skirt” details the story of a cowboy struggling to make his way after the overdose death of his father — and finds himself on his uncle’s ranch in Montana.

“I am a firm believer in God’s redemptive love for all of us and that he truly orders our steps, if allowed,” Dillman said.

Webster is co-directing the 90-minute show with local theater veteran Pete Law, and also narrating.

Retired Hope teacher Webster mentioned that having talented younger actors such as Hauser High School students Jared Schoen and Avery Tallent, both former Webster students, remains a key. Law, Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor and Naomi Fleetwood Pyle, who have worked together previously, round out the rest of the cast.

“You can have the very best manuscript in the world for a show,” Webster said. “But if you don’t have the proper people to fill the roles, you might as well forget it. And we have outstanding people.”

And a generous helping of feel-good emotion and second-chance romance.

Webster laughed when someone asked if they might put hitching posts for visitors’ horses outside the restaurant, given the ranch setting and surroundings.

“Well, why not?” he said. “We may actually end up putting some straw out front.”

A love story

What: Hope resident Rena Black Dillman’s love story, “The Cowboy and the Jean Skirt,” adapted by Hope’s David Webster.

When: 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Where: WILLow LeaVes of Hope (formerly Strawberry Fields Mercantile and Auntie Aimee’s Tea Room) on the Hope Town Square.

Menu: Pulled pork, cowboy beans, green beans, macaroni and cheese, salad, brownie, apple pie, lemonade and tea.

Tickets: $25, available at WILLow LeaVes of Hope, Reflections and the Hope Visitor Information Center, all on the Hope Town Square.

Information: 812-546-6002 or 812-546-7038 or

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.