Friday, December 11, 2009

Millbrook "The Homecoming"

The Millbrook Community Players, now in their second year and settling into their new home, are currently showing "The Homecoming", Earl Hamner's touching story adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, and made familiar to television audiences as the basis for "The Waltons".

Joe Nolin, Jr. directs the production's large cast of veteran and novice actors from the local community. Although some of the staging appears static and cumbersome (moving some 28 actors around a small stage is no easy task), and there is some difficulty in characterization and vocal projection, the play's themes and messages for the Christmas season ring true.

Set on and around Spencer's Mountain in rural Virginia during the Great Depression, the story is a reminiscence of its narrator and central character Clay Boy [Daniel Harms], the eldest of the eight red-haired children of Olivia [Christine Lamar] and Clay [John Collier]. -- On Christmas Eve, with a blizzard paralyzing the community, Clay delayed on his return home from his job some 40 miles away, and only two-dollars remaining in their hands to celebrate Christmas, the family discover that they are rich in many ways despite their poverty.

Clay Boy's truthful accounts of his family -- flaws and all -- are his means to this discovery. Although he loves and admires his stern father, Clay Boy does not want to follow in his footsteps; rather, he wants to be a writer -- a profession his father bruskly dismisses -- and feels that his father does not understand him. His sister Becky [Katie Moore] throws tantrums at the slightest provocation (a sign of her frustrated adloescence); the younger sister Pattie Cake [Gracie Moore] wants desperately to believe in Santa Claus; and his mother is concerned for her husband's safety and her brood's happiness.

Resistant to accepting the charity of their neighbors, the family are nonetheless impacted by everyone around them: the simple friend Birdshot [Cory Jackson], the City Lady [Victoria Martin] who distributes hand-me-down gifts to the poor, the Rev. Dooly [D. C. Conyer] who guides his flock and Clay Boy with unaffected messages of the Christmas season, and most especially the Staples sisters [Kathleen McPherson and Ginger Collum] whose kindness belies their reputation for selling bootleg liquor.

Though Clay Boy's grandparents [Fred Neighbors and Gail Lombard] offer some practical advice, he must find out for himself that things aren't always what they seem, and it is the simple things that matter most: the homemade ornaments for their Christmas tree, the lovingly hand-made clothes from his mother, the gift of a turkey for their holiday dinner, the bonds of family that transcend poverty, and most of all his father's respect.