Monday, July 6, 2009

Woody Guthrie Still Packs Them In

The annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival runs July 8-12 in Okema, Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the basement section of Theater Three (called “Theater Too”) is packing in big crowds with Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Eight singers, musicians and story tellers weave together the best of Woody’s tales and music. Every word spoken or sung, they announce, came directly from Woody. The effect is dazzling!

The original conception and adaptation are the work of Dr. Peter Glazer of the University of California at Berkley. Among his many qualifications listed in the program, he is a Governing Board member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade archives. They save the memories of the American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

The presentation from the actors/musicians is all immediate and unrecorded. They use no artificial amplification, but just sing at the top of their lungs. The stage is made to look more or less like a porch on a ramshackled dust bowl house, but it doubles as a hobo jungle some of the time, and as a boxcar for Woody’s train songs.

All of the characters, men and women alike, speak in first person, for they are all Woody, except for a few scenes when one of them becomes Cisco Houston making sidewalk music with Woody for coins in New York. Except for a rousing version of “Reuben James,” they don’t say a lot about World War II. “This Machine Kills Fascists,” Woody’s proud guitar sign, is in some of the photos on the wall, but not in the presentation.

As we sat teary-eyed in the Sunday matinee among the mostly silver-haired audience members, we began to wonder why we were in $30 seats in a downtown theater instead of in the union hall right outside of town, where a strike just started its fourth week. Such wondering caused my pal to start checking on the show’s union credentials, as she always does. Only 3 of the 8, the program said, were members of Actor’s Equity.

But then, we weren’t really thinking about them. We were thinking about Woody.

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