Seattle Repertory Theater
Feb. 22 - March 24 2007
Call (206) 443-2222 for Tickets & Information
Via the mesh of a History Channel-esque documentary and an Austin City Limit Special, Fire on the Mountain at The Seattle Repertory Theatre was a delightful blend of Bluegrass beginnings and narrative history of coal miners. With the backing of superb costume, set, light and sound design, the multi-talented cast, comprised mostly of folk musicians, was able to carry the show, which consisted mostly of folk music numbers, with narrative interludes. To match aural stimulus with visual, a nearly continuous slide show consisting of genuine pictures from mining days of 20th century America provided authenticity to the “story” of the characters.
The story itself was a bit general, only gaining specificity partway through when reference is made to the death of a coal-mining father/husband, and the performers begin to take on more consistent characters. From here, also, a more remorseful tone takes over what had been a previously up-beat show. The entire show played within those two moods—the songs presenting the dichotomy of a miner who is proud of his work and yet knows the dangers of it, the genre ranging from blues to bluegrass, folksy to almost Celtic, reflecting the various roots of the Appalachian people. The folk musicians presenting this story were an exceptionally talented ensemble, playing their instruments and singing with gusto; and the harmonies they built together were astounding. “Mississippi” Charles Bevel, in particular, was an incredible singer, though certainly everyone in the cast carried their part very well. (It was also enjoyable to see several older actors on stage, an age range that does not often happen.)
The design elements were as beautiful and harmonious as the music was, each working perfectly with the other and evoking the time and place very well. Vicki Smith’s set was created of wood beams and corrugated metal, suggesting a small-town meeting hall, with the addition of two large framed screens, on which the slides (designed by Randal Myler) were projected. Marcia Dixcy Jory’s costumes were similar, blue collar attire consisting of denim, flannel, overalls and cotton dresses. The lighting (Don Darnutzer) and sound (Eric Stahlhammer) were more subtle. The sound design mostly consisted in the miking of the voices and instruments, but that was flawless; and one song, by a miner trapped in a cave-in, had a haunting echo added to his voice. The lighting delicately followed the music, bring up highlights over each musician during a solo (but never distractingly), or lighting a storyteller with a spotlight, always in soft, warm colors that matched the browns of the set.
Although the show is well-put together, all the elements are well-executed, and the singers are superb, the show may not be for everyone. It is almost constant folk music, so if that genre is not something you like, the show will probably not be either. However, if you do enjoy folk music, this show presents it in an extremely enjoyable format; and if you are not familiar with folk music, this is the show to introduce yourself to it; you will be caught up in the talent and the verve of the musicians and the detailed and exceptional production.
Review by Lia Morgan & Phoebe Hopkins