×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Polk County

A sprawling tale of life in a backwoods lumber camp during the 1930s, "Polk County" has been mounted with cinematic sweep on the Princeton stage by director Kyle Donnelly, who adapted the piece with Cathy Madison from the rediscovered musical drama by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring.

With:
Quarters Boss - Eric L. Abrams Few Clothes - Mississippi Charles Bevel Sop-the-Bottom - Carl Cofield My Honey - Clinton Derricks-Carroll Stew Beef - Doug Eskew Dicey Long - Perri Gaffney Ella Wall - Deidre Goodwin Laura B - Gabrielle Goyette Bunch - Lynda Gravatt Lonnie - Kevin Jackson Box Car - Marc Damon Johnson Do Dirty - Michael Keck Mandella - Aliza Kennerly Big Sweet - Kecia Lewis Nunkie - Rudy Roberson Preacher - Bill Sims Jr. Leafy Lee - Tiffany Thompson

A sprawling tale of life in a backwoods lumber camp during the 1930s, “Polk County” has been mounted with cinematic sweep on the Princeton stage by director Kyle Donnelly, who adapted the piece with Cathy Madison from the rediscovered musical drama by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring. The heady and flavorful mix of rural blues, gospel and down-home step-dancing adds immeasurably to the drama, accented by familiar folksy tunes like “John Henry” and “Careless Love.”

Narrative is centered on the tough backwoods women of the lawless sawmill camp in south-central Florida, with some salty humor and hardy-scrappin’ assists from their roughhouse gamblin’ men. Hurston, an early chronicler of American black culture, fashioned vividly significant characters from the sawmills and small-town juke joints that captured a place in time.

Pivotal figure is Big Sweet, a feisty no-nonsense gal described as “two whole women and a gang of men.” Balancing a short fuse with some deep-seated tender love and care, Kecia Lewis shines in the role, particularly in the big showy number “Leavin’ This Mess Behind,” a roaring declaration of resolve written by Chic Street Man.

Leafy Lee (Tiffany Thompson) is the more refined, kittenish, mixed-race woman who journeys from Manhattan in search of her worthless white drunk of a father. She’s on a quest to learn how to sing the blues from the workmen, wooed to the wedding altar by cool troubadour My Honey. (Charles Derricks-Carroll performs the underwritten role of the beau with slick assurance.) Thompson also sings the show’s most alluring ballad, “Who’s to Say That It’s All Over Now,” another original from the pen of “Spunk” composer Chic Street Man.

The sawmill bad girl is Dicey Long (Perri Gaffney), an envious and volatile camp tramp who declares she is “gonna get a new, big knife and make me a graveyard of my own.” Dicey uses a chilling touch of voodoo to disrupt Leafy Lee’s wedding celebration.

Eric L. Abrams gives a sturdy account of the gruff Quarters Boss, and Mississippi Charles Bevel offers a salty study of the wise and lanky dancing old-timer Few Clothes. Marc Damon Johnson as Box Car adds some grand high-stepping. An alluring Deidre Goodwin weaves a lethal dose of bayou witchcraft as the self-assured pagan beauty Ella Wall.

Donnelly’s vigorous staging balances the music, wit and drama with pace and purpose. A touch on the long side, the piece has great potential as a film. Not since the denizens of Catfish Row has there been such a melange of spirited folk, high drama and lusty comic flavor.

The lumber camp, set deep in gator-infested swamp country as designed by Thomas Lynch, is accented by a towering mill wheel, and the lighting design by Allen Lee Hughes makes it all look like a century-old daguerreotype scrapbook. The atmospheric lighting design by Allen Lee Hughes adds a subtle evening glow.

Polk County

Matthews Theater, Princeton, N.J.; 1,075 seats; $53 top

Production: A McCarter Theater Center in association with Berkeley Repertory Theater presentation of a play with music by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring, adapted by Kyle Donnelly and Cathy Madison. Directed by Donnelly. Musical direction and music, Chic Street Man.

Creative: Choreography, Dianne McIntyre. Set, Thomas Lynch; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Allen Lee Hughes; sound, Karin Graybash; stage manager, Alison Cote. Artistic director, Emily Mann. Opened, reviewed Oct. 15, 2004. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast: Quarters Boss - Eric L. Abrams Few Clothes - Mississippi Charles Bevel Sop-the-Bottom - Carl Cofield My Honey - Clinton Derricks-Carroll Stew Beef - Doug Eskew Dicey Long - Perri Gaffney Ella Wall - Deidre Goodwin Laura B - Gabrielle Goyette Bunch - Lynda Gravatt Lonnie - Kevin Jackson Box Car - Marc Damon Johnson Do Dirty - Michael Keck Mandella - Aliza Kennerly Big Sweet - Kecia Lewis Nunkie - Rudy Roberson Preacher - Bill Sims Jr. Leafy Lee - Tiffany Thompson

More Legit

  • The Kilroys The List

    Listen: New List, New Leaders as the Kilroys Push for Parity

    The collective of writers and producers known as the Kilroys has been pushing for gender parity in the theater for five years now. With the launch last week of the latest edition of the List — the group’s annual round-up (inspired by Hollywood’s Black List) of plays by women, trans and non-binary writers — members [...]

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content