BWW Reviews: While Sometimes Heavy Handed, Strawberry Theatre Workshop's THIS LAND WOODY GUTHRIE Has Simple Beauty
OK, at times it was a little long winded; too many songs and a little over reaching in getting its message across. But beyond that Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of "This Land – Woody Guthrie" manages to transcend the music and the message and land itself into a realm of charming and simple grace.
I'm not even certain how to describe it. Part Woody Guthrie revue, part puppet theater and part historical retrospective, "This Land"; conceived, adapted and directed by Greg Carter; takes a look at a simpler time through the words and music of Guthrie and shows how far we have and haven't come since those days. Act one mostly deals with Guthrie and his travels out of the Dustbowl and out to California and his brand of folk music which became an anthem to The Common people of the time. Then in Act Two they switch gears a bit and show the many correlations to the elements and ideals Guthrie fought against that have survived today, at least in some ways. We still have the greedy overpowering the poor, we still have racial inequalities and we still send our young men off to war. And all told through the songs and writings of Guthrie and by 12 gifted actors and musicians. Michael James Adams, Rob Burgess, Sheila J. Daniels, Amy Fleetwood, Edd Key, Don Darryl Rivera, Bhama Roget, Charlie Sandford, Clark Sandford, Margaret Savas, Katherine Stromberger and Kayla Walker convey the simply human messages of Guthrie through spoken word, song and yes, puppets.
And it's the puppetry which helps this stand out beyond a simple look back at an American legend. Based on Guthrie's drawings, the puppet performers manage to tell stories that human ones simply could not. And it's that hook that takes this show and elevates it to a kind of art that a simple play may not have been able to; as the puppet characters enact scenes and stories portrayed within the song lyrics.
So whether you're attracted to Guthrie's music, his ideals or just want to see some gorgeously constructed and operated puppets, the experience of "This Land – Woody Guthrie" is one that will stick with you.
Photo credit: John Ulman