"Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" strikes a sentimental chord
Theater review: Taproot Theatre's return to the folksy charm of the Sanders family, the fictional singing clan from North Carolina, with "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming," playing at Taproot July 10-Aug. 8, 2009.
Seattle Times theater critic
"Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming"By Connie Ray, plays Wednesdays-Saturdays through Aug. 8 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $10-$33 (206-781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).
Theater Review |
Well, now, Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe and wife June are expecting their first little bundle of joy, and are moving on to a ministry in Texas. But glory be — young Dennis Sanders is back from World War II, and got the call to preach. So he's taking Mervin's place at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
Did you hear Burl and Vera Sanders upped and closed their little store in town, and will be working the old farm Burl grew up on?
Oh, and their daughter Denise Sanders? She's married with twin boys now. She and Dennis are twins, so it runs in the family.
And miracle of miracles, Burl's baby brother Stanley quit his wanderin' ways and is home for a spell.
Of course, you'd find all that out yourself, if you amble over to Taproot Theatre to see "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming."
The third in a series of enjoyably folksy musicals conceived by Alan Bailey, written by Connie Ray and staged by Taproot since the early 1990s, this is another corny, comic and zestfully musical visit with the fictional Sanders Family Singers — as they hold a nostalgic song-meeting at their humble church.
The Sanderses are archetypal salt-of-the-earth North Carolina folk, who sing and pray together, and tolerate one another's foibles.
Those foibles are small stuff, as family dynamics go. Burl and wife Vera (played again, delightfully, by married actor-musicians Edd Key and Theresa Holmes) get a bit tetchy with each other and their kin at times.
Son-in-law Mervin (Kevin Brady) is the sentimental, weepy sort, to a fault. Stanley (strapping David Anthony Lewis) is a recovering sinner. And the grandsons, as even their mom, Denise (Candace Vance), would admit, are little hellions.
All of that's good fodder for some funny gags. But what most distinguishes the "Smoke on the Mountain" series is the rootsy bluegrass music the Sanderses make together.
Once again, they dip into the blue-eyed-gospel canon to harmonize heartily on such toe-tappers as "A Little at a Time" and "Do Lord." Other musical treats: a "river medley" ("Shall We Gather at the River,""Far Side Banks of Jordan"), and a "prophet medley" ("Ezekiel Saw the Wheel," "Daniel in the Lion's Den").
Under Scott Nolte's assured direction, the actors fit comfortably into their homespun roles — and Sarah Burch Gordon's period outfits. Even Brady, shamelessly mining Mervin's maudlin streak and Wild West fantasies for laughs, gets a free mugging past.
Apart from the nonsinging Jenny Cross (who as June, is the clan's sign-language interpreter), the actors lift and blend their voices well, and handily play a slew of instruments — guitars, mandolin, accordion, etc.
The Sanderses occupy an irony-free zone of Americana, where the racial and religious bigotry, and the xenophobia, of the 1940s South are nowhere in sight.
Maybe there still are close-knit clans of gospel musicians like the Sanderses in the mountain towns of rural North Carolina. But "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" conveys the bittersweet awareness that, in a looming era of greater mobility and fraying social ties, such relations will scatter.
Which makes the bonds between these kinfolk, musical and familial, that much more precious.
Misha Berson: email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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