9/18/2021 DARLIN’ CORY Alliance Theatre
THE HUNTSMAN’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER
The woman walks the Blue Mountain backwoods with her infant, searching for the child’s father. She has the misfortune of finding him and is soon dead. The infant would also be dead were it not for the intervention of those two mad Crows.
Many years later, we are in the town of Blue Mountain, where the Reverend Bailey rules with an unwavering devotion to rules and virtue. His (always bruised) wife, Truegood, can be as exacting with their daughter Honor. Tucker, who runs the General Store, is still considered “an outsider,” despite being there longer than many in town have been alive. His one employee is Doug, who came back “from the war” not quite right and has trouble remembering what he is doing, where he is, or even who he is. Young Brody is the Reverend’s cocky protege, in love (or so he says) with Honor. And the nemeses of them all is the widow on the mountain and her young daughter, Clara, women with a fierce independence, and a will to defy the Reverend’s entrenched misogyny.
But they are soon gone, and the town settles into a semi-state of normalcy. That is until a year later, when a young boy named Cory comes into town from the lowlands, peddling moonshine with a familiar taste that strikes too many chords of recognition in too many of the town’s older residents. As the Reverend says, nothing good ever comes from a road, and the new road from the lowland city is his latest nemesis. The Reverend is, of course, a man whose faith is an Old Testament tapestry of God’s will, man’s will, and woman’s obedience.
Welcome to the Appalachia of the 1920’s and playwright Scott Depoy’s follow-up to 2015’s Edward Foote. This time, he has eschewed that play’s traditional Appalachian Folk songs for an original score by Kristian Bush (2017’s Troubadour and the Grammy-winning duo Sugarland). Even Edward Foote’s ominous preacher, Jeremy Aggers, has returned to play the equally menacing Reverend Bailey.
This is a moody and memorable work, the kind with incidents and guilts and reveals that sneak under your skin until you’re hanging onto every plot reveal, every song, every scene, every word. Even Todd Rosenthal’s impressive scenic design is a character, a background that switches with the whim of lighting designer Xavier V. Pierce’s equally evocative choices from foggy mountains receding into the distance to plaster-esque walls threaten to collapse on the characters as their hypocrisies ooze out of the songs. Slopes rise on either side of the stage, internally lit houses rising ever higher as the mountain asserts its rule over the characters, a rule that easily trumps the Reverend’s too often cruel control.
Like Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series of novels (the marvelous The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter was the inspiration for the title of this piece), Darlin’ Cory is a deep immersion into the culture and tropes of Appalachia, into its legends ,its history, its characters, its music. The title itself is from a traditional ballad first recorded in 1927 by Clarence Gill (but never released) and covered numerous times, including versions from the Weavers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson , Harry Belafonte, the Monroe Brothers, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives. It was part of the landmark 1941 collection Smokey Mountain Ballads.
The song, like the play, is about Moonshine, Sorrow, and Death (See lyrics below), The play, like the song, creates its spell with on- and off-stage accompaniment by both traditional Appalachian instruments and modern pop tropes. Like Appalachian culture itself, inspirations from many sources help create the story, the characters, and the songs.
The casting is a revelation. From Gillian Rabin’s multi-layered Clara, to Rob Lawhon’s heart-rending Doug, to Marcello Audino’s stalwart Tucker, to the aforementioned Jeremy Aggers as the Reverend Bailey, all create indelible characters who seemingly leap fully-formed from the porch of a mountain shack. You may take exception to the casting of Jewl Carney and Maria Rodriguez-Sager as the indigenous (and mysterious) Crows, but they are both so good any “woke outrage” quickly fades into irrelevancy. Filling out the cast are Jimez Alexander, John Bobek, Katie Deal, Kelli Dodd (whose pre-Intermission “Prayer of No Words” is a sucker punch to the emotional gut), Rhyn McLemore, and Asia Roberts, all turning in exceptional work, becoming integral parts of an ensemble as tightly woven as any homespun blanket.
Excellently directed by Susan V, Booth (do we expect any less?), Darlin’ Cory is an outstanding production to bring us back into the Alliance’s Coca-Cola Stage. It is filled with the multi-layered characters we have come to expect from Philip Depoy, the memorable melodies we have come to expect from Kristian Bush, all with a complex tapestry of plot that constantly surprises and constantly satisfies.
It is a play that inspires one to find a mountain trail and climb it high enough to leave behind any hurly-burley and rule regimen, if for no other reason than to enjoy a jar of shine, peacefully among the trees.
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #AllianceTheatre #Darlin’Cory)
Wake up, wake up darlin’ Cory
Tell me what makes you sleep so sound
The revenue officers are comin’
Gonna tear your still house down
Dig a hole, dig a hole in the meadow
Dig a hole in the cold, cold ground
Dig a hole, dig a hole in the meadow
Gonna lay darlin’ Cory down
Oh the first time I saw darlin’ Cory
She was standin’ in the door
She had her shoes and her stockings in her hand
And her little bare feet on the floor
Oh the next time I saw darlin’ Cory
She was standin’ by the banks of the sea
she had a 44 strapped around her body
And a banjo on her knee
Oh the last time I saw darlin’ Cory
She had a wine glass in her hand
She was drinkin’ that sweet liquor
With a low down gamblin’ man.
“Darlin’ Cory,” collected from oral tradition by folklorist Cecil Sharp