Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rocky Rockwell Remembered

I first met Rocky Rockwell in the mid-nineties when he was putting together a storytelling troupe for the Barter Theatre. Not only did he secure the Barter’s blessing for this venture, he also convinced the theatre to provide a $2,000 budget for each show (no small feat!). Clearly, this man possessed great powers of persuasion.

Rocky was one of storytelling’s greatest advocates. He could not keep a good thing to himself. A long time journalist, he knew a good story when he came across one, but he could also enhance a story with his wit and wisdom in ways that traditional journalism does not allow.

I will never forget taking a group of middle school children to see Rocky at the VASA Gathering in Williamsburg in 2000. They were so taken with his hilarious tale of a Yankee’s visit to rural Mississippi that a few of them asked his permission to tell it themselves. Rocky, of course, granted that permission. He was a generous man.

Rocky was warm and kind. He and his beloved wife, Mimi, often opened their home on eighty-four acres of timberland in a Bristol, Virginia “holler” to travelers in the storytelling realm. Their guests could expect good conversation, a comfortable bed, and, of course, as story or two.

Rocky was on the board of the National Storytelling Network (NSN) for a while. He used that time trying to make the organization more “member friendly.” Many of us appreciated his hard work and determination on our behalf.

Rocky shared his tales at the Corn Island Storytelling Festival, the VASA Gatherings, and at Boston’s Sharing the Fire. Locally, he belonged to the Beaver Creak Storytellers and the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild. His trademark sense of humor always left a trail of laughter in its wake. My favorite Rocky story was the first one that I ever heard him tell: a litany of the trials and tribulations of being old. Only Rocky could make the agonies of aging seem like fun.

I cannot think of Rocky without thinking of his wife Mimi, as well. Married for thirty-four years, they were a loving couple who clearly made a great team, not only as storytellers, but as partners in a life venture that brought joy to others as much as to themselves. Forward-thinking and open-minded, they preferred to celebrate the unique qualities of fellow artists, rather than pass judgment. As a result, there was some rich storytelling in Washington County. The entire community benefited from Rocky and Mimi’s generosity.

My heart goes out to Mimi now. Her best friend, her true love is gone from this earth. This is a tragedy that most of us will face one day, but knowing that does not make an individual’s journey down this lonely road any easier. Mimi is strong. She will take her heartbreak and weave it into a story that will change the lives of all who hear it. She knows how to do that.

In recent years, I have lost a number of the storytelling elders who influenced me as I was coming along on my own journey as a storyteller. Jay Engle, Pete Houston, Pawpaw Pinkerton, and Brother Blue have all completed their journeys. And now Rocky Rockwell, who left this world on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, has joined them. I have no doubt that they are raising a ruckus in heaven right now, a giant hoedown to welcome storytelling’s newest arrival.

I miss Rocky. I miss them all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Westmoreland Players - Inherit the Wind

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

May is a lovely month to visit the “Rivah”, and the Westmoreland Players have just made the trip even more enticing by mounting their production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s courtroom drama Inherit the Wind this month.

Inspired by the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, Inherit the Wind is high drama. The courtroom scene in the second act had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, even though I have seen the show several times and knew what was going to happen. The directing, staging, and acting of the Westmoreland Players production is that good! That is the beauty of live theater: different directors and actors bring different talents to the table. No two productions are ever the same.

Mathew Harrison Brady, council for the prosecution, is often portrayed as a one-dimensional buffoon, but Robert Crown skillfully softens Brady’s unshakeable faith by investing him with intelligence and compassion. Whether you agree with him or not, you admire this man who preaches forgiveness alongside obedience; who, while fighting to imprison a local school teacher for teaching Darwin, would counsel a preacher to be tender towards a rebellious daughter.

Don Kenefick, who plays council for the defense Henry Drummond, rises to the challenge of Crown’s bigger than life Brady. The audience can almost see the quick thinking taking place in Drummond’s brain as the judge turns away all the expert witnesses for the defense. Kenefick plays Drummond with a subtlety that makes the inevitable clash between these two titans all the more delicious.

Chad Lewis as Bertram Cates, the defendant, and Christina Thompson as Rachel Brown, his colleague and supporter, break hearts as they try to navigate the uncharted territory between love and duty.

Jason Strong as the cocky Baltimore Sun journalist E. K. Hornbeck, is a man with an ax to grind. How dare these small town yokels challenge science! Strong left me with an image of Hornbeck shaking the dust off his boots as he sprinted back to civilization.

Bob Wilson made the arrogant and self-righteous Rev. Jeremiah Brown an immovable fortress of faith. Not even the pleas of his beloved daughter could sway him from his course, though one could see his heart breaking at her betrayal.

There were several talented children in this cast, but Ray Rubio as Howard Blair, witness for the prosecution, was so natural and likeable on stage that I forgot he was acting.

Glenn and Joy Evans, directors, producers, and designers for this show, revealed a keen eye for set decoration and costuming (I wanted to buy Rachel’s wardrobe). Though there were many actors on a small stage, the set never seemed crowded. Credit is due to the Evans for selecting the marvelous cast and for directing with such sensitivity. Talented actors in the hands of skilled directors are always a treat on stage.

Inherit the Wind will be on stage at the The Players Theater, located on route 360 in Callao, Virginia, through May 23. For performance dates, times, and prices, visit, or call 804-529-9345.

For those of you living outside the Northern Neck area, please know that I travelled 2 hours to see this show and my sister travelled 4 hours. We both agreed that it was well worth the drive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Crucible at the Sycamore Rouge

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Yesterday afternoon I made a trip to Old Town Petersburg to catch a matinee performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Sycamore Rouge.

Anyone who is familiar with The Crucible knows that it does not have a happy ending. Set during the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials in 1692, this drama portrays innocent people who suffer the consequences after wild tales from children create an atmosphere of mass hysteria. Writing during the mad reign of McCarthyism, Miller structured this play to warn that history does, indeed, repeat itself, far more often than lessons are learned. Parallels can be found in every era.

The set at the Sycamore was plain and suitably stern, creating an atmosphere that was at once sinister and foreboding. Of course, a good cast and crew cannot go wrong with an Arthur Miller script. I am happy to report that this cast and crew did its job well.

While the entire cast was good, there were a few who deserve special mention:

Stephen Ryan, as the Reverend John Hale, skillfully crafted a complex man whose good intentions were turned against him. In his zeal to do the Lord’s work, he supped with the devil, realizing too late that the horror he thought to control was in fact controlling him and everyone around him.

Brittany Simmons, as Abigail Williams, a scorned young woman whose fury would result in the deaths of nineteen innocent men and woman, was a tight knot of self-righteous indignation, pointing her deadly finger at any who dared try to thwart her diabolical scheme to possess the man who spurned her.

Mike Sullivan, as Giles Corey, gave a heartbreaking turn as a man who thought to teach his book-loving wife a lesson, all the while unwittingly signing her death warrant.

Beth Von Kelsch, as Elizabeth Proctor, triumphed as the wronged wife who watches in horror as her husband’s mistakes bring about the ruin of her family. Ultimately, she nobly takes the blame upon herself. “It were a cold house I kept,” she confesses. Ms. Von Kelsch portrayed Elizabeth with just the right mix of strength and vulnerability.

Jefferey Cole, as John Proctor, one of the few sane minds amidst the hysteria, portrays the voice of reason that will not be heard, even though it be shouting. His ultimate sacrifice is his legacy to his children. As an actor, Cole became the character with such ease it was hard to separate the two.

The Sycamore Rouge is a beautifully restored theater and bar. On Sunday, it served drinks and desserts. I recommend the key lime pie.

The Crucible will be showing on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through May 15. Friday and Saturday shows start at 8:00 p.m. Sunday shows start at 4:00 p.m. Tickets range from $18.00 to $22.00. For reservations, call 804-957-5707 or visit