Hick Mocking

There must be a special corner of hell reserved for reviewers who disparage the efforts of lively and enthusiastic community-college actors. Nevertheless, I have a question for the cast and crew of Sand Mountain, in production at Orange Coast College: What the hell are you doing onstage?

It's not that director Alex Golson's production is amateurish or that you are talentless, unqualified actors or crew. It's just that the production is—mostly—a mess. Romulus Linney's two one-act plays on the bill, Sand Mountain Matchmakingand Why the Lord Come to Sand Mountain, are killer boring. They're likely to provoke panic, not thought. They raise just one question in my mind: Why am I watching these things? And one observation: my ass hurts.

These plays have to be better than this production would suggest; Linney isn't one of those lame community-theater playwrights whose industrial productivity is in inverse relation to his quality. Indeed, Linney has scored some great successes. He's written plays about Hitler's No. 2 man, Herman Goering; the oh-so-beloved Lord Byron; and, for some reason, Frederick the Great. He's received two Village Voice Obies.

Linney grew up in Depression-era Boone, North Carolina. It was evidently a powerful experience, calling him back dramatically time and time again. But unlike another series of plays about life in a similar stretch of the country, Robert Schenkkan's Kentucky Cycle, there's not a whole lot of meat sticking to the bones of Linney's plays, and not a whole lot of ideas other than simple homespun country folk wisdom that gets real tired real fast.

If Sand Mountain Matchmakingwere as grueling as Why the Lord Come to Sand Mountain, we'd never survive intermission. In the former, Nancy Troia does some very good work as Rebecca, an attractive young widow assailed by dopey suitors. But in their effort to capture the patterns of Linney's dialogue, most of the other actors' characterizations suffer greatly. Ultimately, I didn't give a possum's teat which of these dunces Rebecca chose. But there were some humorous moments, and the story is easy enough to follow.

This was not the case with Why the Lord Come to Sand Mountain.I swear I was paying attention, but I had to read a synopsis of the damn thing in the Dramatists Play Service Catalogue to understand what I'd just seen. There's so much running about, bad accents and sloppy acting that I felt I was watching a rehearsal in a Valium fog. I do remember chuckling twice—when someone said, "hog-slop soup" and when someone else observed that ugly women had to blindfold their babies just to suckle.

As far as plot goes, the supposedly real Jesus and the real St. Peter (dressed in common clothes and exercising Christ's predilection for the marginal) are wandering through the hills and decide to stay the night with a family of drunken, brawling hillbillies rather than a wealthy farmer couple. Amid squalor, everyone swaps stories and drinks—which, since the married couple are huge drunks and the Lord is busy filling their cups with good brandy, doesn't make much sense until you recall the wedding at Cana. And then Jesus and the increasingly irascible St. Peter (a likeable James McGinnis) exit, leaving a bounty of gifts behind. Like Santa. Oh, there's also a horrendous retelling of the story of Joseph and Mary that was, I'm afraid, nearly unbearable.

The whole thing put me in a bad mood, and I don't think that's what anyone intended. Rather than capturing the spirit of Linney's work—illustrating the generosity, love and simple human kindness that can survive amid poverty—this production seemed almost to mock hicks, as if inmates at Nurse Ratched's asylum had decided to stage SwingBlade.I know it's harsh and not particularly constructive criticism, but that's this version of this truth.

Sand Mountain at Orange Coast College's Drama Lab Studio, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5880. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $7-$10.


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