Woody Sez

at the American Repertory Theater

Nélida Nassar  05.14.2012

The American Repertory celebrates Woody Guthrie’s would be 100thbirthday, a troubadour and balladeer of backwoods America who believed in “singing for the plain folks and getting tough with the rich folks.” David M. Lutken traces the main narrative of Guthrie’s arduous life and social activism, and his fellow three performers (Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein) with dignity and open heartedness.

The 90 minute tribute is woven by music and biographical snippets of Guthrie’s trailblazer life, travelling across America from Oklahoma to California and back East during the thirties’ great destitution and depression. Woody grappled with numerous fires, family deaths, and a genetic Huntington disease. Some of these events are of his own doing, others are pure luck and fate. The play unravels, unforgettable new words to old tunes, musical titles such as: “Dust Storm Disaster”, “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “Going Down That Road Feelin’ Bad,” “This Land Is Our Land,” to name but four of the 31 numbers David M. Lutken and Andy Teirstein brilliantly perform. The quatuor sings with lusty conviction and handle their instruments – banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, double bass, various guitars and a whole load more – with great finesse and elegance, spreading warmth out across the theatre. Andy Teirstein’s exceptional soup spoons rendition deserve special mention.

With “Jolly Banker” – and the provoking line of “I’ll be there to help ya, I’ll robya, I’ll scalp ya” the piece might be seized on by some as an incitement to smash capitalism. In exceedingly social and economical disparities, one does not come away not feeling that this modest yet delectable play embodies our actual cash-strapped, anxious times. If the evening helps put today’s work in historical perspective, what comes across just as forcefully is how the songs transcend the time they were written.

I dare anyone to go and see Woody Sez and not be moved to the core by the power of its political poetry and message through lyrical and folk music. Was Woody Guthrie foretelling our time? Doesn’t history always repeat itself? In theatre, blue states and red states behavior exist, do we need to start thinking about sweeping equally away both our political parties Democrats and Republicans and create a clean slate with more humane values of generosity and fraternity? Woody Sez is not to be missed for its wonderful folk music, self-effacing humour and sheer humanity!

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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