Sunday, April 27, 2014

Red Door: "Cotton Patch Gospel"

The narrative of Cotton Patch Gospel tells the New Testament stories in a rural Southern accent that speaks from the heart with sincerity and good humor, much like the medieval Mystery Plays that infused local dialect to make the Bible's characters more accessible. The delightfully modernized script is by Tom Key and Russell Treyz, and the clever musical score by Harry Chapin.

Mixed with numerous songs to help narrate, analyze, and inspire as it recounts the life of Jesus, the show has audiences clapping hands and tapping toes in time to the music at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs.

Director Fiona Macleod (no stranger to Cotton Patch Gospel with several previous productions in her extensive resume) has gathered an impressive ensemble of actors and musicians who tell the story with enthusiasm and commitment on Ray Thornton's simple rustic set of platforms and benches that helps focus attention on the play's messages.

As the actors [William Harper, Jordan Allen, Belinda Barto, Elizabeth Bowles, David Carter, Joseph Crawford, Beth Egan, Ellis Ingram, Craig Stricklin, and Janet Wilkerson] each play several characters, we witness Jesus' birth, early life being "about my Father's business" in the Temple, turning water into wine at Cana, meeting "Joan" the Baptizer, rejecting the Devil's temptations, recruiting the twelve Apostles, and performing several miracles that raise suspicions and target him as a criminal.

Act II continues with Jesus entering Jerusalem [Atlanta], through to the Last Supper, his betrayal by "Jud", and on to his suffering, death, and resurrection, all told with sincerity through the play's most commonplace language and rustic simplicity.

It is a true ensemble performance, complete with a remarkable seven member band of accomplished musicians who enliven the story with "a joyful noise", and accompanying the actors in memorable moments: some like "Somethin's Brewin' in Gainesville" and "Goin' to Atlanta" give an upbeat energy that is infectious; some like "When I Look Up" and "You Are Still My Boy" are quiet pieces that keep the audience in hushed reverence.

The Red Door continues its mission of presenting plays with a Southern flavor, and Cotton Patch Gospel hits the mark, and garners newcomers into their often sold-out houses. One of them was heard to say that she would definitely be returning for such high quality productions as this one. Excellent!