It takes commitment to embody a character over four decades. By the end of Salt of the Earth, both cast and audience have a lived-in comfort with the West Yorkshire coal-mining family at the center of the action, thanks to the determination of the generally strong ensemble. Playwright John Godber grew up in Yorkshire himself, and his dialogue is taut and affecting even when a married couple bicker for the sake of bickering or a teenaged lover grunts a come-on.
A spare set and costume design belie the production’s complexity. We see the characters age from 1947 to 1988—growing up, falling in love, facing crisis—mainly through subtly maturing speech and body language. As May, the wife of clownish miner Harry, Kathryn Bartholomew is a standout; what softness she had in her youth seems to be blasted out by middle age, leaving only coal dust, suspicion and resentment. Equally strong, Joshua Katzker is onstage all too briefly; he gives the part of Harry’s pal Roy sincerity and passion.
One unfortunate oversight: While the joy and community of dancing are central threads of the characters’ lives, the dance steps aren’t convincing. The actors have hewed their Yorkshire accents with rare dedication; their foxtrot and jitterbug could use a bit of the same polish.
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