from the C-T
Review: SART’s ‘Ruthie’ is rewarding theater
Jim Cavener • take5 Correspondent
A biblical tale gets a Western North Carolina twist in “Ruthie,” a world premiere production at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in Mars Hill.
Written by David Anthony Wright, now managing director of the Paramount Theater in Burlington, “Ruthie,” is a worthy effort and a rewarding theater experience.
It takes place in the Asheville area, just after World War II. Local residents and those familiar with the region are going to find the show most appealing. But, anyone seeing this well-crafted work will enjoy a feel-good evening with moments of high drama. Mostly, this is a warm and fuzzy story with a crew of well-written, classic Southern characters.
Ruthie McInnes (Ashley Manning) and her mother-in-law, Naomi (Kay Galvin), return from Charleston to Naomi’s modest home in the mountains of WNC after the wartime death of Ruthie’s young husband (and Naomi’s son), Martin. They are welcomed by a range of regional denizens from Naomi’s past, all new and unfamiliar to Ruthie, who comes from a more urbane and sophisticated past. The plays on Baptist vs. Episcopal and Presbyterian values and practices afford a knowing and entertaining portrayal.
Among the classic characters entwined in Ruthie’s saga are two town matrons who open the show with a farcelike display of rapid entrances and exits through the six doors on the set, designed by Richard Seagle. These two, Thelma Whitesell (Dianne Chapman) and Alma Clayton (Elaine Blanton), provide ongoing comic foil and are well worth the trip. They keep the guffaws authentic and frequent.
Julius Kingsford (Michael Mattison) runs the town’s dry cleaners and laundry with his sleazy son, Junior (Anthony Giordano), with help from the wholesome boy-next-door, Beau Stroud (Bradshaw Call). Julius hires Ruthie, who is the object of attraction of both Junior and Beau. Therein lies the romantic, as well as dramatic, story line. Tony Medlin as Coot Cameron provides further light moments with a twist of Jubilation T. Cornpone. Robert McDaniel offers two lesser roles.
There are a few rough edges in this new script. The last scene needs to be more clearly identified as occurring a considerable time later. A lot has happened since the previous scene, and the audience is left guessing. Yet, the easy, linear story line lets us enjoy this unfolding tale of virtue winning out and everyone getting where they need to be with a totally sweet denouement. “Ruthie” is to theater what comfort food is to dinner. A nice time is virtually guaranteed.
Director John Moon gives us additional post-WWII touches in musical themes and period references, as well as the right balance between frenzied flourishes of comedy and subdued interpretations. Galvin, Mattison, Chapman, Blanton and Manning all shine. Giordano’s evil and Call’s virtue are both well wrought. Medlin is a hoot.
01 August 2008
from the C-T