By JAY HANDELMAN
Posted Aug 9, 2005 at 2:56 AMUpdated Aug 9, 2005 at 4:47 AM
In his previous shows, Sarasota playwright Larry Parr has found ways to wrap important messages about how we live and treat one another around stories of real people.
He has written about performers Hattie McDaniel and Alberta Hunter and author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, revealing how some lives touch us in unexpected ways.
Rawlings also provides the stylistic inspiration for “Sundew,” which is running through Aug. 21 at Florida Studio Theatre, Parr’s unofficial home base.
It’s an engaging story about a strong mountain woman and widow, Elizabeth Adams, who has lived on the hundreds of acres that have been part of her family for decades. She calls it Eden, and has tried to make her daughter, Alice, appreciate the wonders of nature around her.
But Alice has had enough of a life without amenities. She wants to go to college and enjoy some of the finer things that the rest of the world has come to know.
She also wants to share them with her boyfriend, Tom, who has been like a son to Elizabeth — she found him along the river as an infant and brought him to an orphanage.
Elizabeth and Alice battle when a mining company offers enormous sums of money to buy the land. It can provide the things Alice wants and guarantee that Elizabeth will be cared for as she gets older. But at what cost? When do we say no to development that robs the Earth of its beauty?
You can fully appreciate what Elizabeth sees around her in Marcella Beckwith’s gorgeous set of leafy trees, sunken, mossy earth and a ragtag home that gives them shelter. Allan L. Mack’s lighting adds to the beauty of the scenery, and Nicole Wee’s costumes nicely fit the surroundings.
“Sundew” features some of Parr’s most poetic writing to date, particularly as Elizabeth recounts the glories of the Earth and the plants and animals that have sustained her.
It’s beautifully written.
The tale is told with a spiritual element and shades of Bible stories.
The cast is strong, particularly Katherine Michelle Tanner, who brings a sunny, world-of-wonder tone to the role of Alice. She’s practical yet dreamy.
As her mother, Nancy McDoniel is fiery yet earthy, a woman comfortable wandering through the woods barefoot and picking the fruits of the vines around her.
And as busy as she is hauling water and hunting dinner, she still takes time to notice the miraculous appearance of birds, animals and plants that many thought were long lost.
As Tom, Jerry Richardson is a lovingly manic man-child, with common sense and dreams of life beyond the mountain. But he also shares Elizabeth’s joys about all that’s around him, even if he is frequently distracted by his affection for Alice.
George C. Hosmer makes a few comical appearances as the family attorney, who trudges up the mountain to relay the mining company’s latest offers.
There’s tenderness, love and a real appreciation for the Earth in the play.
Thoughtful ‘Sundew” returns to Eden
Take four fine actors and a thought-provoking play of paradise lost and found, and you have the making of a worthwhile summer evening of theatre. Florida Studio Theatre starts of its 2006 season with “Sundew,” an intriguing drama by Sarasota playwright Larry Parr.
Parr says his inspiration for the work came from “Cross Creek,” a biopic of the unconventional life of acclaimed Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, known for her classic, “The Yearling.” But, he adds, his story of a woman possessed by her desire to protect and defend her wilderness home took on a life of its own even as Parr set himself the goal of capturing Rawlings’ rich and lyrical style.
Elizabeth Andrews, portrayed with grace and conviction by Nancy McDoniel, lives with her daughter Alice (Katherine Michelle Tanner) on meager cash, but rich in the natural beauty of their rural home.
Convinced that her lush country acreage is the real Garden of Eden, “Crazy Lizzie” talks to her long-dead husband and sees long-extinct animals, perhaps fueled by a jug of homemade peach brandy she keeps at her side.
Alice longs for more, and dreams that someday her orphaned boyfiend Tom (Jerry Richardson) and she will move on to big city dreams. He will be a doctor, and she his helpmate and nurse.
Tom – sensitive and comfortable in the natural world – signs on to Alice’s musings, but all her really longs for is to finally be a member of a real family. But who will care for her mother if they go?
Into the quandary comes an apparent solution in the form of local lawyer Matthew Spencer (in a crafty comic performance by George Hosmier) bearing an offer to buy Eden for more money than most country folk can imagine.
But before we can find out whether Lizzie will ever leave Eden, a lot of family secrets bubble to the surface. Secrets about Tom’s childhood and Alice’s infant brother buried beside his father.
Mother Earth has a cruel streak, it appears. Even Abraham was called back before he sacrificed his son Isaac out of blind obedience.
Parr’s drama has an elegiac mood, and Director Kate Alexander has staged a fine dramatic reverie of a fascinating and poetic play, with first-rate performances from the entire cast.
The play also benefits from evocative set design, costumes and lighting from Marcella Beckwith, Nicole Wee, and Allen L. Mack, respectively.
Going down to Eden
“Sundew * Florida Studio Theatre through Aug. 21
A skeptic once offered this challenge to a mystic. “If God really did exist, the world would be filled with divine fire.”
“It is,” replied the mystic. “Green fire.”
He was talking about nature.
Sarasota playwright Larry Parr has shared the mystic sense of God’s immanence in all living things. “Sundew,” his latest play, is filled with God’s green fire.
Parr’s love of nature goes beyond mere tree hugging to the level of religious awe. The playwright equates the un-degraded natural world with the Bible and Eden. In Parr’s interpretation, man wasn’t really cast out of the garden. He was a lousy gardener. He went about eating his seed corn and laying waste to what he couldn’t consume until he ruined most of the garden. Only one small patch of of unspoiled Eden remains. It happens to be somewhere in Appalachia. It’s where Parr’s play happens.
Parr’s earthly paradise belongs to Elizabeth Andrews (Nancy McDonel) a tough-as-nails widow patterned after Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She looks on her few hundreds acres of unspoiled mountain wilderness as a sacred trust. She really thinks she’s living in Eden, and it’s her job to tend it. She chats with the dead and really believes that long-extinct species are coming back to live in her private preserve – species such as the insectivorous Sundew, the Carolina Parakeet, the black-horned elk, and in an eerie coincidence, the ivory-billed woodpecker. The townsfolk call her “Crazy Lizzie.” She doesn’t care. She’s on a mission from God.
Elizabeth shares her slice of heaven on earth with her daughter, Alice (Katherine Michelle Tanner), who doesn’t think it’s so heavenly. She’s sick of the hard work, self-denial, and contempt in the eyes of the townspeople. Alice’s boyfriend, Tom (Jerry Richardson) is also a frequent visitor. (Elizabeth found him in a basket, like the baby Moses, years before.) Tom’s heart is divided. He shares Elizabeth’s love of the land. He shares Alice’s desire to get a real life in the real world. But the real world finds them first.
The serpent that enters the paradise is a lawyer (George C. Hosmer). He brings glad tidings of money and joy. A mining company wants to cut Elizabeth a huge check for her land. She just says no. Alice tries to change her mother’s mind, knowing the clean life she wants with Tom is just one check away. Elizabeth’s mind is unchangeable. Speaking one on one, the lawyer suggests to Alice her mother’s mind might be deranged, in which case, Alice could have her mother declared incompetent, get the deed, the big check, the big-city life she wants, along with the best treatment for her mother. All for her own good.
When Alice and Tom mention the possibility of commitment to Elizabeth, it literally breaks her heart. She has a heart attack and dies.
That’s the action you see in the first act.
It’s powerful. It’s poetic. Parr’s language alternates between the lyrical and the prophetic, expressed in a southern idiom that doesn’t seem derivative. He takes you to the mountaintop with his words.
There’s still magic enough in the play. Director Kate Alexander holds you by the hand and walks you softly through its enchanted woods. The playwright’s path demands that you take the revelations at face value. That’s tough for post-modern sophistication to pull off, but Alexander sticks to the path.
The actors, too, must deal with such unfashionable feelings as awe, a sense of wonder, religious terror and a profound sense of moral obligation. If emotions were animals, these would be endangered species, but the actors resurrect them.
Richard’s Tom-Sawyerish Tom is a man with no guile. Tanner’s Alice is a young man’s fancy and an old man’s dream. Hosmer’s lawyer is a comically sleazy serpent. McDonie’s Elizabeth is a force of nature, perhaps supernature.
Parr’s message is never lost. It shines as bright as the sun by the play’s end.
SART’s ‘Sundew” is brilliant
By Tony Kiss
MARS HILL – A remarkable new drama is shining this weekend in Mars Hill, as the professional Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater (SART) finishes it 1997 summer season.
“Sundew,” getting its world premiere production by SART, is a peaceful, touching story of an eccentric old woman, desperately clinging to wooded property she believes is the real, Biblical Eden. Meanwhile, her frustrated young daughter is ready to sell out and move to Chicago with her sensitive boyfriend. And plenty of secrets are lurking with these characters.
This is brilliant work, well written, acted, directed – one of the best shows staged in the mountains this summer. The small cast is headed by Becky Stone among Asheville’s finest actresses.
Playwright Larry Parr of Sarasota, FL, has crafted a thoughtful message about protecting the environment without getting too preachy. It’s another solid hit for Parr, who also wrote “My Castle’s Rockin’,” which premiered at SART in 1993.
Crazy old Elizabeth Andrews (Stone) has always been a little odd, scratching out a living in her rural paradise, talking with her long-dead husband, spotting long-extinct animals and birds frolicking in her woods.
Elizabeth couldn’t be happier, but not her frustrated daughter Alice (April Tanner). She can’t wait to leave for Chicago and nursing school with her orphaned boyfriend Tom (David Garone), who is determined to belong to a family.
Now comes on the crisis: a huge corporation wants to buy Eden for a fantastic price. The offer is delivered by fidgety Attorney Spencer (David Perkins) who stands to claim some of this dough himself.
As the story unfolds, we discover more about the strange relationship between Elizabeth and nature-boy Tom – and how far the daughter will go to get her hands on that money.
Veteran director Ron McIntyre Fender has shaped a fascinating tale with an outstanding performance by Stone as the offbeat Elizabeth who may not be as strange as she seems. Tanner is superb as the greedy, long-suffering daughter, not a nice character but one who can be understood.
Garone is strong as the boyfriend who wants to belong more than anything. SART veteran Perkins provides strong comic relief as the small-town lawyer.