Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What's True? And What Do I Believe?

We're sneaking up on the thirtieth anniversary of the syndication of the famed "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strips, drawn and written by Bill Watterson, and in a way, it's worth thinking about that famed boy and his tiger when considering another play, "Harvey," about an affable man and his invisible six-foot-three inch friend who would look a lot like a rabbit if we could see him.

Artist Bill Watterson was notorious for refusing to give interviews or licensing his creations for things like stuffed animals. In part it was to leave open the question of just how "real" Hobbes the tiger was. To others Calvin could be seen as an ordinary boy carrying around a stuffed tiger, but we the readers, along with Calvin, saw him as a rather clever talking tiger who lived an independent existence from little boy.

In an insane era, when shattering events cause talking heads of all stripes to circle the wagons and defend their viewpoint with a destructive fierceness we all have to ask ourselves, "What's true? And what do I want to believe?"

We're not the only ones to live in a world turned upside down. Playwright Mary Chase wrote "Harvey" during World War II, and it opened in 1944. Set in the library of the Dowd family mansion, and in sanitarium with the deceptive title "Chumley's Rest," it centers around the affable Elwood P Dowd, a mild eccentric who insists that he is accompanied by Harvey, an invisible pooka, an Irish spirit, who takes the form of a six foot, three and a half inch rabbit who walks on two legs.

His social climbing sister Veta, concerned for the family's reputation, realizes she must make some hard choices, and that perhaps Elwood needs to be committed and subjected to various "treatments" that will "cure" him.

But, as director Jeremy Littlejohn points out, "People are drawn to Elwood., They unburden themselves to him. His whole outlook on life is wonderful." In some ways, Littlejohn said, Elwood is Christ-like. Littlejohn was first attracted to the show by James Stewart's performance in the movie adaptation. "It's just a charming play, very funny, very stylistic. 
Everything you need is on the page. All I really need to do is get out of its way."“Harvey” is a very funny play, which has the effect of insuring its message works its way into our hearts. Humor is perspective, after all, nothing more or less.Which reality do you want to live in? The reality of a man who’s friends with a rabbit named Harvey? A boy who talks to his tiger? Or the reality of a gun-toting racist who imagines he’ll start a race war in America if he shoots up a church in Charleston?

The cast includes Travis Smith as Elwood P. Dowd, Rita Kurtz as Veta Louise Simmons, Elsa Scott as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Pam Gunterman as Miss Johnson and Betty Chumley, MoMo Lamping as Mrs Ethel Chauvenet, Katherine Yacko as Ruth Kelly, R.N., Douglas Campbell as Duane Wilson, Ryan A. Schisler as Lyman Sanderson, M.D., Charles Burr as William R. Chumley, M.D., T.J. Besler as Judge Omar Gaffney, and Travis Bird as E.J. Lofgren.

"Harvey," opens in a limited three week run October 21 at the Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres, and runs through November 8. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Good Old Fashioned Revival

A dear friend of mine, the late Willis Hershberger, once told me how gospel groups would play and sing all around the Elkhart Plaza, and how shoppers would gravitate to them and just stand to listen. Willis also said people no longer appreciated live music, and if folks played real instruments and sang good old fashioned gospel, shoppers would just walk right on by as if the radio was playing.
With all the benefits that have come with the digital revolution, there’s still nothing like live music, and the current production of “Smoke on the Mountain” at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres features some of the best live down-home gospel you will ever hear, including one talented individual, Katherine Yacko, who manages to play and sing just enough out of sync to convince us she’s no good at it. Yacko plays June, the untalented Sanders sister who is relegated to hilariously incorrect sign language and impossibly muted percussion during the concert given by the Sanders Family at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina on Saturday evening in 1938.
And because this is live it’s easy to miss one of the show’s funniest moments, when June corrects the pastor, who in his excitement has taken up the tambourine, and demonstrates the proper way to shake it is silently.
If “Smoke on the Mountain” consisted of nothing more than the instrumental and singing talents of Director Amber Burgess, who plays Vera the matriarch of the family, Paul Kerr who plays the patriarch Burl, Jeff Raab and Jocelyn Longquist who play the twins Dennis and Denise, Perry Orfanella, who plays Burl’s brother Stanley and is the prodigal come home, then the evening would be worth it. They bring to life one gospel favorite after another, a veritable greatest hits from every battered hymnal resting on the living room piano, and they do it with seeming effortless ease, the kind that comes from talent and hard work..
But collectively the family, anxious for perfection in this first performance after a five-year hiatus (we are told “mother” just died a few months before), testifies to redemption in the way they cope with their broken lives rather than in the Bible verses they rattle off with ease. Burl’s brush with temptation as he attempts to keep his service station open during the Depression, Dennis’ desire to be a preacher which does not fully blossom until he loses his mother’s script and suddenly preaches from the heart, Denise’s desire to fly far away, June’s struggle with inadequacies drummed into her by her family, Vera’s desire to control (articulated most clearly in her uproarious children’s story), and Stanley’s stint in jail, tell our story as well as theirs, and give us hope because evidently God’s not through with us yet.
Ryan A. Schisler plays the Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe, not only faces down his own “Get thee behind me, Satan” moment in his attraction to one of the sisters, but guides his congregation despite himself, absorbing the anger of the church ladies while struggling with his need to be needed.
Perry Orfanella’s Stanley says it best as first in song, and then in story, he testifies just why an expletive came so easily to his lips to end the first act, and why it’s a miracle he’s there at all. Talking about the absence of love in a fellow convict’s life, he shares how after his own release from jail his brother told him simply, “Come home.” “Smoke on the Mountain,” with its glorious live music and perceptive acting, is an invitation to all of us, broken as we are, to accept the invitation from One who loves us despite who we pretend to be, and simply come home.
Smoke on the Mountain, Written by Connie Ray, Conceived by Alan Bailer. Musical Arrangement by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick.