After several years' hiatus, Conecuh People, Ty Adams' stage version of Wade Hall's autobiographical book of the same name, is once again on stage at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs. -- Directed this time by Kathryn Adams Wood, and with a complement of some 25 local actors, it is a nostalgic reminiscence of hard working salt of the earth rural Alabamians through the eyes of the character of Mr. Hall, played here by a trio of actors -- "today's" older narrator [Craig Stricklin], the boy [Sam Miller], and the young man [[Tyson Hall, who is actually the great nephew of the author he portrays].
Played in front of a tin roofed country house porch, and with a number of moveable set pieces, the action unfolds by shifting time periods between the 1940s and 1950s with commentary from the present day, recounting two events that shaped Wade Hall's life -- one good and one bad -- and we are introduced to a myriad of relatives and local characters who impacted the boy and the young man. -- Their homespun advice that urges him on to college, the army, and a teaching career comes at a cost as he is wrenched from the care of his grandmother as a young boy. But he learns valuable lessons along the way.
Interspersed with songs that often support the action, though occasionally seem out of place, and accompanied by Jane Padgett's solo keyboard, there are a number of excellent vocalists in the cast.
The play's episodic structure calls out for greater variety of pace and energy expressed in this current production to make up for the non-dramatic narrative sections, but the ensemble of actors put on a pretty good show.
The women in Mr. Hall's life have the greatest impact, with individual actors of note: Juanita Smith as his African American surrogate mother whose strong singing voice and sincere request for Wade to find out her birthday so that on her death she can accurately be remembered are rendered in one of the play's most sensitive and credible scenes.; Janet Wilkerson as the snuff dipping Elma Lee Hall is confident and funny; Belinda Barto plays Velma Rotten Driggers, a well-intentioned sort whose energy gives a spark to a scene where she makes him late for class.
But the focus is mostly on Wade himself, and each of the aforementioned actors compliments the others in developing the one central character we come to care about.
Above all, the lessons we and Wade learn from ordinary people very much like ourselves -- the bonds of family, a regard for one's fellow man, the value of hard work, respect for the past, and a recognition that no matter how far we remove ourselves from where we were raised, home will always be a place of solace -- all these are what leaves the larger impact.