The author, writing about his North Carolina home, directed an excellent production of an intricately plotted, strong, and well-written script.
At first it appeared he was paying homage to his roots. But then he seemed to pull them apart to expose the frightening creatures crawling underneath the earth.
The setting is the Appalachian mountains where wholesome herbs and roots are mixed with wilder things to make up poisonous potions. The hero loves to read stories about monstrous men who cut, fry, and eat their own tongues. Eventually he joins his neighbors, and together they befoul their nests and sell their souls for 25 acres and a few thousand dollars.
The author/director took pains to add authentic touches to the austere set. Thus, quilts paneled the stage (designed by E. David Cosier); and odd objects (a toy, a whiskey jug) and lines ("I'll talk turkey if you talk squirrel") brought the proceedings nicely to life.
The director did other fine things such as shrewdly casting his well-defined characters. By showing one young woman quite naked in the semi-darkness between scenes, he slyly drew away the curtains to show the origin of the inevitable tragedy. By play's end, he paraded a perfect tableau to create a withering finish.
David Johnson played the handsome, randy, nasty naïf believably bewildered by all the shenanigans that cloaked him in their evil web.
Heather Melton as his first mistress exuded a refreshing touch of innocence in her brief role. Mary Sparks as her successor was fine, as was Mark Alan Gordon as the sinned-against outsider who finally turned the tables.
Fred Burrell, in long underwear, made a properly loathsome victim-husband, justifying the mayhem that did him in. But he retained just enough humanity to make the audience care.
Rebecca Harris was lower-keyed than the others as she matured before our eyes from girl to scheming woman; and Daniel Martin played a weak and pious churchman, whose twisted theology shone forth with evil intentions, while he led the singing of an obscure hymn or preached nonsensical Bible lessons.
But it was Christine Parks who held the story, stage, and cast together. Playing a character who never forced her way, but, with gentle voice and charm, pointed out the simple choices between wickedness and evil, she made complete horror sound reasonable. Beautifully acting with every fiber of her being, she could shake her head in wonderment and make the audience shiver.
Costumes by Jonathan Green were practical enough for actors to make dramatic use even of their pockets. But the look seemed a bit more Depression-era than 1900.
Jeffrey S. Kroger turned day to night and back again in his well-executed lighting plot.
A fine play, but definitely not for kiddies.
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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