Theater review by James Gavin
From the Great Depression to the Cold War, Woody Guthrie roamed the country with his guitar, writing and singing songs that empowered blue-collar workers, rallied for unionization, scorned capitalist greed and glorified the heartland. “This Land Is Your Land” and other Guthrie tunes inspired Bob Dylan and galvanized the burgeoning folk movement. His story is an American epic, and a cast of four gives it a stirring reenactment in Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie. Like the songs themselves, everything about the show has the ring of truth. The performers look and sound as though they’ve stepped off a farm in Guthrie’s native Oklahoma, and their singing evokes the Weavers, the 1950s quartet (featuring Pete Seeger) whose rough-hewn fireside harmonies helped make the Guthrie canon famous.
Playing guitar, fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, harmonica and other instruments, the performers plumb the inner depths of a man whose Okie roots—scarred by poverty, mental illness and domestic tragedies—filled him with empathy for the downtrodden. As Woody, David M. Lutken (who devised the show with director Nick Corley and others) captures Guthrie’s droll humbleness and purity of heart. Earth mother Helen Jean Russell sings with a lullaby sweetness. Megan Loomis is touchingly guileless and plaintive; Andy Teirstein dispenses the show’s gruffer, pluckier wisdoms. Together the cast gives voice to Guthrie’s disdain for the abuse of power at the expense of the common man. “Fascism is all around you,” writes Guthrie, “more than you can see.”
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). Devised by David M. Lutken and Nick Corley. Directed by Corley. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through July 23.
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