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6/7/2024        TRILLIUM:  AN APPALACHIAN DRAMA          Pumphouse Players


pgm 0607 Trillium.jpg

In the greenest part of the mountains lived Granny Caudill and her grand-daughter Maeve.  Their shack was filled with roots and herbs and chicory and love, for Granny was an herbalist, called a witch by the townsfolk on Sundays and secretly called upon in the dark hours when healing or charms were needed or desired.  Maeve’s best friend was Sarah.  When the girls were only twelve, Sarah came to Maeve, hoping for a charm to break an evil teacher’s curse, a curse that caused Sarah to forget lessons and to lose the boy she loved.  But Sarah’s father could never know, for Sarah’s father was a man of the Bible, and meddling in the affairs of herbs and charms and Mountain Witches was a mark of the evil one.


As it must to all who dwell in the mountains, time took away Granny and left Maeve and Sarah as estranged adults, until Sarah wanted a charm to win the heart of the handsome new doctor in town, a newcomer from Raleigh named Bobby Jameson.  Maeve admitted such a charm existed, the root of the Trillium, a plant native to these mountains and often used as an eye wash.  But it should never be used in the name of love, for, as time brings death and change to all who travel its byways, love is like a snake, safe (and even beneficial) if left to its natural ways, deadly if interfered with or manhandled or diverted from its intended path.  But because Maeve felt guilty about their long-standing estrangement, she gave Sarah the root, cautioning her to never use it, lest its spell be misdirected.  For love engendered by the Trillium root can never die, never fade, never change.

Into the clearing of Maeve’s home stumbles an injured hiker, a hiker with a scientist’s mind and a poet’s heart, exactly the sort of man Granny’s long-ago prophesizing had promised for Maeve, the love that would remain with her for her entire life.  This man’s name was Dr. Robert Jameson, and Maeve is, in fact, exactly the sort of woman he had always dreamed of meeting.


Sadly, Appalachia stories have a way of taking dark turns.  Just ask Barbar’y Allen, the heroine of the classic ballad we hear oft during the course of this tale.  This play is no different.  For where there is love, there is pain and jealousy and revenge and hypocrisy and dark dark fate and sad sad surprise.   Surprise that, when all is revealed and told, may not be as sad as first appears.


It should also be remembered that Appalachian tales are often out of sequence, past echoes juxtaposed with present (or even future) melodies.  Ghosts make their presence known, even if only through wind chimes serenading a still and quiet evening, lost Granny calming Maeve’s present despair even as she brings in another memory.


Cartersville’s own Karen Ruetz has crafted a ballad, a lyrical and rapturous tale of growing up too fast, of self-love mistaken for schoolgirl crushes, of schoolgirl crushes feeding adult obsessions.  Pumphouse Players has staged a production, full of rough edges that seem perfectly suited to the world of the ballad, shades of amber and green reflecting off faces too often sunlit on rainy days, vines and roots constantly threatening to trip the characters as if warning them to beware their worst instincts.


This is a fluid and absorbing story, simultaneously melancholy and joyous, tragic and uplifting, filled with nostalgia for the past and hope for the future.  And watching it is akin to hearing a soft guitar solo under moonlight or hearing an A Capella elegy under starlight, maybe even an ominous threat echoed by distant thunder.


Caytlin Dover and Philip Aaron Brasher give us a Maeve and a Bobby who are perfectly matched, souls perfectly in synch, perfectly juxtaposed – the doctor of science and the purveyor of herbal remedies, the physician recognizing the efficacy of mountain witchcraft and the mountain woman softening towards the town’s medicine man.  Hollie Huddleston is suitably hissable as the selfish and narcissistic Sarah, yet still sadly at sea, a lonely woman who can’t seem to find anyone who will love her as much as she loves herself, including the “best friend” from her childhood who must be casting a love spell of her own on the good doctor.  Younger versions of Maeve and Sarah are played by Emily Garner and Katelyn McKoon, and, in fact, they LOOK like younger versions of Ms. Dover and Ms. Huddleston.  Malisa Gray is potently effective as Granny Caudill, wise and wonderful in her common sense and generosity.  Was it my imagination or did her voice echo those wind chimes that seem to be her chief means of posthumous communication?


Director Laurel Ann Lowe and her design team (particularly set designer Meghann K. Humphreys) have created a memorable world for Ms. Ruetz’s tale, a ramshackle house surrounded by a hundred shades of green, props that bespeak a love for roots and plants and herbs and youth.  Ms. Lowe has also given us a sound design that echoes birds and insects and natural mountain ambience even as it sets mood with songs of Appalachia, classic folk melodies recognizable and not.


Trillium is a marvelous experience, a ballad of passions and families, traditions and progress, heroines and villainesses, honesty and hypocrisy.  Karen Ruetz is to be commended for crafting a character-rich tale, cleverly composing dialog that clearly sets time and place, reminding us that language is music, that time is fluid, that adulthood is elusive, and that love is as unexpected as a rainbow after a storm or as the wrong root contaminating a lovingly prepared casserole. 


It weaves a spell that is effective, enduring, and inescapable.


    --  Brad Rudy  (   #PumphousePlayers   #LegionTheatre   #Trillium

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