While the cast of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at 30 by Ninety Theatre was going through costume selections recently, Evette Randolph thought the pendant she had on looked wrong with the neckline of the dress she was wearing. So she took it off.
But almost immediately, Randolph said, she felt that something was missing. The feeling was so strong that she could hardly breathe, and it didn’t pass until she put the pendant back on.
She hasn’t had it off since, and doesn’t plan on ever removing it.
There's a reason for Randolph’s distress.
The pendant carries the thumb print of her 17-year-old son, Magnum, who died Sept. 13 from complications after surgery to repair a shunt in his brain. The shunt was designed to ease the effects of the spina bifida he was born with. Magnum also was autistic.
Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, where Magnum died, offers such keepsakes to family members who lose children there.
“I’m still trying to figure out what normal is supposed to be,” Randolph said, who was Magnum's main caregiver. “But I don’t think it’s ever going to be normal again.”
For her, trying to regain normalcy means returning to the stage. She has been a strong presence in local productions for the past few years.
Along with appearing in the current 30 by Ninety musical, which begins a two-weekend, eight-show run Sunday, she just served as stage manager for Playmakers Theatre’s production of “The Seafarer.”
And in between, Randolph successfully ran for the Abita Springs Board of Aldermen. She tried to withdraw from the race when Magnum developed the issues that proved fatal, only to be told her name could not be removed from the ballot.
With little campaigning except on social media and a billboard proclaiming she was “From Abita, For Abita,” Randolph finished second in a field of eight, gaining one of five at-large seats on the board. She takes office on Dec. 18.
“That may have been the most efficient campaign of all-time,” said Regan Contois, a friend who also was elected. “She puts up a couple of yard signs and wins in a landslide.
“But people know how much Evette cares about Abita. She’s put in so many hours of service to the town and given back to the community, I would have been shocked if she hadn’t won.”
Randolph has served on several civic groups since 2009. That's when she and her family returned from California, where she pursued an acting career — and met her husband, now head of craft services for "NCSI: New Orleans." She said she’d been thinking about running for the board for at least a year.
But Magnum’s death gave her a different perspective on being a force in Abita's future.
“Mangum was always going to be part of Abita Springs,” she said. “He loved going around in the park and telling jokes to everyone we ran into during the Push-Mow parade.
“I feel like this is one way to honor his community — trying to make Abita a better place.”
But it’s in the theater where Randolph is finding it easiest to deal with her grief.
“My own family is the most important thing in getting through this,” she said of her husband, Michael, and daughter Ciara. “But putting on a show — rehearsing for weeks and realizing that everyone has to pull together to make it come off — that makes you a family every time.
“I’m still raw and hurting, and there are times I need to go out in the lobby and collect myself. But the compassion of the people around you is awfully nice therapy.”
Randolph, who has had several featured roles on local stages, including as Mrs. Robinson at Playmakers earlier this year, has a small part in this show.
“With my singing ability, that’s for the best,” she said.
The cast consists of 24 children and six adults.
In fact, she had a surprise planned for Magnum. He was going to be in the ensemble singing during the pageant part of the show.
It would have been their first time on stage together. The show is being dedicated to his memory.
“Magnum loved coming to see me in shows, and he had this big belly laugh that everybody knew who it was,” Randolph said. “He would have enjoyed it so much.”
Now that won't happen, but as Randolph points out, with the pendant she will always have Magnum close to her heart.
“To a lot of people, Magnum may have had a miserable life,” Randolph said. “And with his autism, there were issues.
“But he was basically happy-go-lucky all the time. I’m going to be happy for him then.”