Appalachian Comedy and Backwoods Humor in “Sand Mountain”

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Presented by The Hub Theatre Company of Boston
By Romulus Linney
Directed by Daniel Bourque

December 13-21, 2013
First Church Boston
66 Marlborough St
Boston, MA
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Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston) Romulus Linney’s Appalachian play is a strange, Frankenstein’d animal of a comedy.  It combines two stories about marriage and society on Sand Mountain, an Alabama sandstone plateau.  The first half, Sand Mountain Matchmaking, is about the unlucky love life of the widow Rebecca Tull (Lauren Elias) as she searches for an appropriate suitor.  Act II, Why The Lord Come to Sand Mountain, is a twistier story featuring Jesus (Robert Orzalli) and Saint Peter (Yoni Bronstein) as they spend a night with a backwoods family.  Both acts combine to create a folksy, down-home play, one a little too saccharine to feel credible but fun none-the-less.

Director Daniel Bourque’s take on rural America is sugar sweet but largely empathetic toward the social norms of Alabama “hillbilly” inhabitants.  Fiddler Julia Alvarez capably sets the scene, embroidering scenes with warm music.

In Sand Mountain Matchmaking, Elias’s Rebecca is concerned when she discovers none of her potential suitors are up to her standards.  She’s reminded by the local medicine woman, Lottie Stiles (Ann Carpenter), that Sand Mountain has few bachelors available but that doesn’t mean she should let her standards lapse.  With the aid of a “spell,” Rebecca is able to discourage her lackluster admirers, all played hilariously by Yoni Bronstein, Bill Salem, Robert Orzalli, and, finally, Sam Bean.  The story is delightfully bawdy with its jokes and amusingly realized with the help of Lauren Elias’s acting.

Ann Carpenter makes a memorable return as another medicine woman for Why The Lord Come to Sand Mountain, this time acting as narrator.  Through her eyes, we watch Orzalli’s Jesus and Bronstein’s Saint Peter’s eventful visit with the impoverished, whiskey-swilling couple, Jack (Salem) and Jean (Elias), and their fourteen children (Connor Upton).  The story begins as a latter-day Biblical fable, with a pair of divine figures learning from the everyday challenges of a mortal man and woman.  What soon transpires, however, is a meditation on the nature of fiction, faith, and the logic and catharsis behind the stories we tell ourselves.  Because of this, Why The Lord Come to Sand Mountain may have a looser plot, but it’s the strongest of the two tales.

Hub Theatre, once again, gives viewers an enormously enjoyable comedy.  Sand Mountain keeps things cute and light.  Why these two different stories are put together isn’t particularly clear, however, beyond their shared setting.  Playwright Romulus Linney appeared to have an affinity for Appalachian culture, and while the plays presented here are fun, they don’t provide much insight into the lives they depict.  The mountain accents, also, remain questionable.  Still, it’s an adorable and funny hour or so spent listening to some well-wrought yarns and certainly recommended for a chilly weekend.

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