Saturday, December 1, 2012

Red Door: "The Homecoming"

Earl Hamner, Jr.'s 1970 autobiographical novel The Homecoming, later turned into the very popular television series The Waltons, is currently playing a sold-out short run at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs in a stage adaptation (itself a Christmas season favorite) by Christopher Sergel.

Under Tom Salter's sensitive direction, the 23 member cast of area actors create a comfortable ensemble around Clay Boy [Joseph Crawford] its central character and narrator of his own story. Mr. Crawford, in his first major role at the Red Door, immediately engages the audience with his sincerity in recounting the events of Christmas 1933 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where he is the eldest of eight red haired siblings.

At the height of the Great Depression, with a blizzard imminent and father Clay Spencer [Tim Gables] en route for Christmas at home from his job 40 miles away, brothers and sisters impatient for Santa Claus, and mother Olivia [Elizabeth Roughton] on the brink of despair and down to two-dollars to provide for her brood, Clay Boy is saddled with the responsibilities of being the temporary man of the house.

Clay Boy wants to be a writer, and though he loves & admires his father, he is frustrated by a seeming indifference from his dad who advises him to "become a responsible man, build a home, raise a family" -- the practical admonition of a practical man.

With his father very late in arriving, Clay Boy goes off in search of him, a search in which he meets an assortment of neighbors from whom he learns a great deal about his father that he never knew -- his kindness, his generosity, his love of family, and his admiration of his son. Several of these characters appear only briefly, but each makes a lasting impression -- so when Clay, Sr. predictably shows up in time for Christmas, he more than lives up to the reputation he has in the community.

Because this play is so familiar to today's audiences, and due to its sentimentality and predictable plot, its success depends a lot on the excellence of its acting company (particularly those in featured roles) and here we are in good hands. -- Emily Roughton is delightful as young Pattie Cake who believes in Santa and is so eager for Christmas to arrive; Eve Harmon's depiction of the angst-ridden adolescent Becky is a mixed-bag of anger and softness; Kim Graham and Cecelia Moorer as the eccentric spinster sisters who make bootleg eggnog are solid & unpredictably entertaining; and Mr. Gables does a fine job of bridging the practical unswerving parent with the loving-caring rock of the community.

Ms. Roughton's portrayal of Olivia is so consistently credible as she suffers while trying not to show it to her children, and demonstrates her love for her family with simple gestures and words of hope to sustain them through such difficult times. -- And it is when she and Mr. Crawford share the stage that the intimacy of a mother-son relationship rivets our attention. They are a good pair. Mr. Crawford commits fully to his role and produces an admirable balance of frustration and acceptance, puzzlement and discovery; while Ms. Roughton allows herself so unobtrusively to be the strength he needs so he can find out for himself that love and appreciation for family and friends are what is needed to get us through. -- And when Clay Boy receives an unexpected gift from his father, he is also given permission to lead his own life.