As long as I’ve been around Howard Payne, the words “homecoming” and “production” have enjoyed a close association. It has become a tradition for the university’s theater department to offer an outstanding evening of entertainment for not only the returning alumni, but also for current students and the Brown County community as well.

That tradition is alive and well.

I dropped by the HPU Theatre Wednesday evening prior to dress rehearsal for this weekend’s homecoming presentation, “Kabooooom!” That evening’s run-through had become a bit more than a rehearsal, though, because a busload of area high school students was brought in to be an audience. The show opened to the public Thursday night, and it continues tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

This Southern premiere of the comedy is something of a homecoming in reverse, I guess. At the least, it’s a reunion. That’s because this performance reunites the show’s director, Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld, with her colleague from graduate school, Mary Moore, the show’s playwright. Humfeld was in the cast of the show’s first performance, and she brought the comedy - as well as her friend - to Brownwood for this year’s Howard Payne homecoming production.

I learned during my freshman year that homecoming is a big deal at Howard Payne, and as the years since my own graduation mount, I understand why. For the students who are able to go to a four-year institution during the “traditional” age of late teens to early 20s, it’s a time of monumental change. Some of that is educational, to be sure, but much of it is emotional. And on campuses like Howard Payne, it is also spiritual.

It’s a time in life when the apron-strings are finally being cut, when financial responsibilities begin to pile up and life-changing decisions regarding a spouse and career are often made. The collection of friends you accumulate along the way may or may not linger with you for decades, but they still have a major influence on those life-changing decisions and the things you come to value most. Sometimes, it’s their friendship that you value as much as anything, and that holds true if you see them every day, or just a few times a decade during homecoming.

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the hard work required to stage these productions. My own son earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and is now practicing his trade in the Austin area. As I’ve watched his studies and his personal journey in the field, I’ve come to realize how large a role the theater has played through the generations in not only mirroring, but also shaping society, and how much all of us can learn about different cultures as well as the past through the art form.

Our immediate area has a strong claim on some of the best there is in theater. For example, Tom Jones - who with Harvey Schmidt, is responsible for musicals like “The Fantasticks,” “110 In The Shade” and “I Do, I Do” - is a native of Coleman. If you don’t know their musicals, you know their songs, including “Try To Remember” and my personal favorite, “My Cup Runneth Over.” That fact is not lost on local residents, because the Coleman Heritage, Arts & Preservation Society will host a dinner and musical tribute to Jones at 5:30 p.m. next Friday at the Coleman school cafeteria and auditorium.

My wife and I went to Round Rock last weekend to watch our son play Romeo in Sam Bass Theater’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” You don’t have to be an authority on Shakespeare to know that the plot of that is a real downer. This weekend, we plan to be in the audience for the comedy “Kabooooom!” and it will be a delightful change of pace.

Perhaps we’ll see you there.

Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.deason@brownwoodbulletin.com.