Last week I finally made it back to Cumberland County Playhouse for a two show day. I saw the closing of All Shook Up, which I wrote about when I saw it earlier in it's run, and I saw a beautiful production called The Moving of Lilla Barton.
The Moving of Lilla Barton was in the Adventure Theater (a.k.a. the little theater) at CCP. Sometimes the staging and set design has to be a little creative because of the size of the area. A mixture of good scenic design by Christien Fontaine and good lighting design by Sandra "Sam" Hahn made this production work extremely well. Set mostly in the home of Lilla Barton, the few scenes that took place in the office of the Bishop had to be worked in and yet made to look natural. With a raised platform in the corner to signify a different area, and lighting that distinguished and highlighted the areas when needed, it make the two areas work well together and feel like you were looking at two different sets, even though nothing moved during the show.
A small cast of only six made this show fairly easy to follow and lovely if you frequent CCP often, as all the actors were regulars on the CCP stage. The caliber of talent that graces the stage during this production is incredible, and as it is such a small cast, you have time to appreciate each of the actors so much more during the show.
Set in present day, the story centers around Lilla Barton, a recent widow, and her church's attempts to get her to leave her home (the church rectory) of twenty-three years. Playwright John MacNicholas walks a fine line between poking fun at people from the Southern states and presenting the culture of the South in a true fashion. With fantastic direction by Donald Fann, the cast walks that line beautifully, sharing the comedy and truth of the intricacy of the Southern way of life.
In my opinion the stand out performance of this production was Patty Payne's Lilla Barton. I've seen Patty Payne in several different productions at CCP and she always presents herself as a talented professional, but in this role she absolutely shines. Lilla Barton is a complex woman, dealing with changes in her life that are beyond her control while she is still figuring out who she is as a person and not as the the wife of a minister, a mother, etc. Payne takes what could have been an over-acted role and turns the character into a woman that you want to know.
In the "old meets new" part of a changing South, local newspaper owner and church member Matt, played by Greg Pendzick is a character in which you see an amazing development of character. Matt is from the North and even after living in the South for several years, has yet to quite understand how and why things work in the South. Through events in the play, and an awkward friendship with older native Jonas, Matt realizes that some things don't need to change in the South, and that adaptation to a way of life can come naturally, if you allow it.
Jonas, long time church member and stubborn Southerner comes to understand that "Yankees" aren't always as bad as they seem and through helping Matt to adapt, begins to change himself. Bobby Taylor is a natural in the role, turning the character of Jonas into a compassionate, caring person who doesn't like change, but understands that changes come.
Rounding out the cast are the lovely Weslie Webster as the uncaring church member and real estate mogul Luwanna, the super-talented Jason Ross in a rare serious role as the Bishop, and the multi-dimensional actor Michael Ruff playing the town Sheriff. All three of these actors are fantastic in their roles. Each of them has a way of taking their role and instructing the audience on exactly how they should feel about their characters.
I will admit that some of the writing could be seen as cheesy or cliche if you aren't from the South. Constant references to "Yankees" and jokes about how people in the South communicate could come across as offensive to some. But honestly, anyone who has been raised in the South (or lived here for any amount of time) will see the play for what it is: a heartfelt story of love, loss and changes. And they will know that there isn't a joke in the entire book that wasn't borne from some hard truths of Southern culture.
My only regret is that I didn't see this show earlier in it's run. With only a week left in the run of the show, I'll be unable to see it a second time. You, however, still have a chance. You can see The Moving of Lilla Barton through May 24th. Order tickets by calling Cumberland County Playhouse at 931-484-5000, or order online by clicking HERE.