Sunday, December 6, 2009
Earl Hamner's The Homecoming
This past Friday night, I went to Afton, Virgina to see the Hamner Theater's production of Earl Hamner's The Homecoming. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
My sister, my niece, and I arrived early and had dinner at D'Ambola's. I am happy that we got there before then sun went down. The blue mountains were gorgeous as the sunset. We sat by the window and enjoyed the view.
After dinner we mosied on down to the Hamner. I am glad that I made reservations early. The show runs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from November 19 through December 13, and every single performance is sold out.
If you are not familiar with The Homecoming, it is the story of a family waiting for its father to come home on Christmas Eve. The father lost his job locally (the play is set during the Great Depression) and is now working out of town in Waynesboro. The snow is falling, and travel is questionable at best.
The audience waits anxiously with the family, but the wait is a rewarding one because the various characters introduced are engaging. There is Clay-Boy Spencer, who shoulders his father's burden when he is away, and Olivia Spencer, a loving mother whose sterness masks her worry. The nine children in the cast are delightful.
Birdshot Sprouse, Clay-Boy's supportive friend, always appears when needed most. Reverend Hawthorne Dooley is a soulful black preacher who aids Clay-Boy when he is sent to search for his father. The Staples sisters, who provide their neighbors with holiday "recipe", provide comic relief, as well as comfort and joy.
The Homecoming has two casts. I saw cast A. Mary Coy played Olivia Spencer with just the right mix of angst and strength. I could not help but compare her to Patricia Neal, who protrayed Olivia in the television movie. Mary was not found wanting. She is excellent.
Michael Dowell played the adult Clay-Boy who narrates throughout the play. The wistful glimmer in his eye, his strong yet gentle voice, his honest portrayal of a man who knows he will always live some part of his life in the past - all these things worked together give the show integrity and authenticity.
Director Boomie Pederson told me that between the two casts, there were 32 children. I must admit to being amazed by the performances of the children in cast A. Never once did I doubt that they were a family. I actually forgot that they were acting.
I must commend Boomie Pederson's direction. She is innovative and always on top of her game. Even when the actors are excellent, Boomie's touch can be seen tying everything into place so that each scene blends seamlessly into the next.
Most folks know that The Homecoming was spun off into The Waltons, as series that ran on CBS for nine years. I think I will look for the show on DVD. I do not want to leave this family behind.