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ACT show transports patrons to Appalachia of old

January 16, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

From the forested mountain setting to the soulful opening strains of "Amazing Grace," Alpena Civic Theatre's "Foxfire" is enticing audiences to relive a slice of Americana.

The show plays for only one more week, but in the meantime, solid acting by the six-member cast, a well-crafted set and an endearing story succeed in providing a feel for both a unique place and a disappearing way of life.

Based on real life cultural histories collected by students and teachers in the Appalachia region beginning in 1966, the "Foxfire" play was written by actor Hume Cronyn and writer Susan Cooper as vehicle for his wife, Jessica Tandy. The piece centers around Annie Nations, who as a 79-year-old widow living alone in the mountains of Georgia, handles her loneliness by resurrecting the wise-cracking presence of her deceased husband, Hector.

Seasoned actors Karen Thompson and Chip Lavely fill these two roles once played by Tandy and Cronyn. An ease exists between long-time friends Thompson and Lavely that translates visibly onto the stage.

Lavely actually does more than soundly handle the important role of the sometimes preening, sometimes prodding, but nearly always ornery Hector. Lavely also selected the play and serves as its director. At a pleasantly, relaxed pace, he presents the conflict of tradition versus change in this warm, blue-grass tinged, comedy-drama.

Annie has refused to leave the long-held family farm or allow herself to be separated from Hector's spirit, even though a real estate developer is eager to make a deal for her property. Annie's successful country-music singing son also wants her to leave the mountains to be closer to family. Thompson's gait, her gestures and her spoken words all mesh together to form an outstanding portrayal of Annie.

Fact Box

Alpena Civic Theatre


Jan. 19-22

Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, 2 p.m.

Box office: 354-3624

It's always gratifying to see newcomers up on the ACT stage. Two newbies this time are Gerard Ahlgren as Dillard, Annie and Hector's son, and Nicholl Perkins as the outspoken young teacher, Holly. The role of Dillard really seems to suit Ahlgren. He's got a likability factor and an ease on stage, not to mention an innate musical ability that comes in handy since his character is a country-music singer.

Ahlgren is not the only one to demonstrate some musical talent as local musicians Kim Dahl, Jerry Keen, Allen Konicek and Jim Daleski also put in some stage time as Dillard's band. The highly enjoyable foursome sound authentic and even play a couple of additional tunes during intermission.

Though frequently on tour, Dillard has returned to his roots for a nearby concert. He uses the occasion to visit his mother and try to convince her to move from the hardscrabble mountain. While there he encounters Holly, who cares deeply about Annie and doesn't pull any punches telling Dillard he's been selling himself out with his flashy concert gigs. Perkins is certainly a nice addition to the cast in this role, that towards the end of the play, also has her conducting an original "Foxfire" project-like interview with Hector.

Teresa Drake also does a nice turn as the real estate developer, Princess Carpenter. Drake oozes false charm and insincerity as her character tries her best to convince Annie to sell.

Additionally, Rosina Phillips is always enjoyable to see on stage. The underlying story of "Foxfire" is carried along by nostalgic flashbacks and anecdotes, one of those being the birth of Dillard years ago. Phillips plays the kind and capable country midwife who comes to the cabin and delivers him.

As if acting and directing weren't enough on his plate, Lavely also designed the topnotch set. An authentic-looking cabin with a functional front porch is set among groves of pine trees and a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains painted by set artist Nancy Mead. The cabin cleverly swivels and opens up as the scenes dictate.

Well-executed sound and lights also are important factors as are a few of the props, including the can't-miss pig's head that figures into an amusing early scene in the show.

"Foxfire" isn't filled with any major plot twists or turns. Instead, with its languid pace and musings of the past, it transports viewers back to the sometimes nostalgic, sometimes difficult times in the remote corners of Appalachia.



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