Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theatre: Roll on, Guthrie, Roll on

Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russel, and Andy Teirstein, Directed by Nick Corley,  through January 29, Seattle Rep

The Rep has been a time machine this particular season. Raisin in the Sun is set in 1950's Chicago, Roz and Ray covers the AIDs epidemic during the 80s, Charles III takes us a few years into a possible future of England, and Vietgone deals with the Vietnamese refugees in the 70s. So we get another chunk of the 20th Cent with Woody Sez, covering the life of the populist and progressive folk singer from the 30s to the 60s.

The performance is more revue than a traditional play, in that the events Guthrie's life is highlighted by his music. The narrative of his biography is the frame for the performance. We get his boyhood and his family life, but much of his life crystalizes in the Great Depression, when the economy crashed, the dust bowl yawned wide, and people took to the road. Guthrie was a creature of the road, moving from town to town, busking, working, and singing. And the presentation frames that life in the terms of his songs.

And it is excellent. There about about 25 songs from his canon woven through the story, not counting the encore our Sunday afternoon viewing was treated to (which every Sounders fan knows, at least the chorus of it). David Finch narrates and portrays Guthrie himself, a tall drink of water with an Oklahoma twang and a nasty habit of pointing out obvious truths. David M Lutken, who is the "deviser" of the production from the credits, plays all the other roles, including radio announcersm, other travelers, male relatives, and Pete Seegar. Darcie Deaville and Helen Jean Russell, also parts of the original productions, switch off on the female roles, including Guthrie's mother and various wives.

They all sing well, and they all play. The instruments line up on the stage, and they move from one to another easily - fiddle and base, banjo and mandolin, and various breeds of guitar. The songs are from all over Guthrie's career, but power though the story of the man.

And it is political, but it is a hopeful politics of disempowered people that moves him forward, of those down and out without much up to look up to. Framed against a time when the GOP trashed the economy ("Don't worry," Finsh says as Guthrie,"I'll get to the Democrats", but I don't remember if he ever does), it shows where a lot of his thinking comes from. Less detailed is when he changes his mind, which he does - he is advidly anti-war until it comes knocking, then volunteers for the Merchant Marine in WWII and gets his ship sunk twice.

Guthrie died of Huntington's disease, an genetic affliction that claimed his mother and would evenutually rob him of his voice and his talent,. But he left his music and his writing behind, and the performance builds finally up to the one Guthrie song everyone knows - " This Land is Your Land." And yeah, there was not dry eye in the house, and you got the feeling that, no matter how bad things get, there is a way to see things through.

More later,