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.

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.

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