Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EC Playhouse: A Musical Romp in Sunny-Sided Theater

This past Friday I had the pleasure of attending Electric City (EC) Playhouse’s musical production of Keep on the Sunny Side. I was so enamored with the story, the songs, and the cast that today I am taking on the role of amateur theater critic. Keep on the Sunny Side is a touching, knee-slapping, benevolent, and delightfully executed biographical musical. The history of The Carter Family is an inspiring tale in its own right, but coupled with timeless folk classics performed by a talented ensemble cast, Sunny Side yields the perfect recipe for an enriching theatrical experience.

The Carter Family began recording music during the late 1920’s, and several Carter family members, including the late June Carter Cash, continued to popularize that distinctive backwoods Virginia sound throughout the 20th century. Many Carter Family songs – such as Wildwood Flower, Can the Circle Be Unbroken, and (of course) Keep on the Sunny Side – are staples of Americana which have been covered and performed countless times across the decades.

One could offer no finer review of Keep on the Sunny Side than did the sold-out house of audience members through their reactions to the show. From the entertaining preshow performance (by Jimmy O Trio and friends) until the closing curtain call, audience members could not refrain from smiling, laughing, clapping, and singing along. Having had very limited exposure to this genre of music, I found myself tempted to leap into dance with each new song.

Some in the audience must have been old enough to recall when these songs were originally recorded, and they evidently felt that the EC Playhouse cast honored The Carter Family through their performance. Of particular note were the reactions of one elderly gentleman in the front row. He was clearly having trouble maintaining his posture, and at a few points during the show he struggled to keep his eyes open. But all the while a reminiscent smile shone through his weathered face, and with one hand rapping rhythmically against his knee, he never missed a beat.

The touching life story and endearingly simple folk songs of The Carter Family were faithfully executed by a strong ensemble cast. Sara Carter (played by Leslie Hardigree), wife of A.P. Carter and one of the original Carter Family members, was to me the central figure in the story. While Mrs. Hardigree performed well with the other actors, her strongest moments were Sara’s soliloquies and solo musical performances. Mrs. Hardigree appeared possessed by Sara Carter’s spirit, especially when emoting her more lamentatious times. Upon seeing the glistening moisture in Sara’s eyes as she struggles with a failing marriage, one cannot help but well with tears of sympathy. Mrs. Hardigree is also blessed with an angel’s voice. Her powerful range and emotive inflections add artistic beauty to the role.

A.P. (played by Keith Parker) and Maybelle Carter (played by Gail Brown) round out the original Carter Family cast. Both possess lovely voices and considerable skill with the guitar, especially Mrs. Brown whose performance belies extensive musical training. A.P. is at his most endearing as he courts young Sara outside her mountain home. Though not a young man himself, Mr. Parker is as believable portraying a youthful gentleman caller as he is portraying a recently departed soul. Aside from strutting her considerable musical aptitude, Mrs. Brown’s most memorable moments come as Maybelle comforts her dear sister Sara with feminine sympathy and sensible advice.

Strong performances in supporting roles add wonderful depth to the play. Wailing away with a high-amplitude and outrageously accented vocal performance, Janette Carter (played by Paula Dolittle) struggles to keep the Carter Family spirit alive. Even small bit parts, such as Timothy Vin’s portrayal of the long-haired, backwoods preacher presiding over A.P.’s funeral, contribute significantly to the show.

Special mention must go to Dr. Brinkley (played by Guy Harvley), his trusty assistant (played by Todd Barnette), and the play’s director Jimmy Burdette for the brilliantly-paced transition from Sara’s tearful marriage farewell to the hilarious antics of XERA Megawatt Radio. After a powerfully emotional set of scenes, the audience hungers for refreshing levity to clear their theatrical palates – and the director kindly delivers. Mr. Harvley displays his vocal versatility by portraying a heavily accented Texas con man imitating various other outrageous characters over the radio waves – while Mr. Barnette plays the semi-straight man, a perfect foil for Dr. Brinkley’s mischievous depravity. Considering the impeccable comic timing between them, one suspects that these two men have worked together before. They elicited hearty waves of laughter from the audience at all the right moments.

In closing, I want to express my sincere thanks to the EC Playhouse cast and crew for enriching my soul with a new (to me) classic set of musical masterpieces. I’ve been listening to original Carter Family recordings every day since I saw the play, and have been touched by their sincerity, simplicity, and benevolence. I’ve even begun learning how to play some of the songs on my guitar. Though the older crowd dominated attendance at last Friday’s performance, I have no doubt but that this music will live on forever. We will pass it on to our children, who will pass it on to our grandchildren, and so on, for as long as humanity endures. Beautiful classics like these never die. Now I’ll be doggone if that ain’t a Sunny-Sided sentiment!

--Dan Edge

Virtual Objectivist Club

From the Objectivist Club Network (OCN):

I helped start the Objectivist Club Network (OCN), an organization dedicated to helping all Objectivist Campus Clubs. OCN is not affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute, although we support them and regularly communicate with them to ensure our respective organizations are not duplicating efforts.

Recently we've expanded our efforts to solve a new problem: there are students interested in joining an Objectivist club where no club exists. Some of these students start their own club, but others don't have time to start a club or do not find enough participants on campus to form a club.

We've created the Virtual Objectivist Club (VOC) for these students -- a phone-based discussion group dedicated to the study of Objectivism. Meetings will be weekly, beginning this September, each moderated by an experienced Objectivist. The group is open to any current students who would like to learn more about Objectivism.

My request: Please help spread the word to any students you know who may be interested in learning more about Objectivism. The deadline for applying to the VOC is August 31st. Students can learn more and apply at:

Please let me know if you have any questions and we greatly appreciate you sharing this with others!

Keith & the OCN Team

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Benevolent Universe -- The Perseid Meteor Shower

While I have many reservations about plugging my neural interface into the Face-Borg Hivemind, it does have its benefits. Yesterday, an old high school friend posted on his Facebook Wall an article about the 2009 Perseid Meteor Shower. I had never witnessed a meteor shower before, and my interest was piqued. To my great pleasure, I found that astronomers regard Perseid as the "granddaddy of all meteor showers." Even better, the peak viewing time for Perseid was last night (Tuesday, August 11), the same day I discovered its existence.

I sprang into action, gathering up snacks, bug spray, blanket, pillows, flashlight, and my trusty knife. When considering where to go to experience Perseid, one location immediately came to mind: Bald Rock. Just as its name implies, Bald Rock is a giant, treeless rock face in the Blue Ridge Mountains which faces east towards the rising sun. From this lofty perch, one can see the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg, both over 30 miles away. There is hardly any ambient light in the surrounding area, making it a perfect spot for admiring the stars.

I got there at around 10:45pm and, despite its remote location, at least 15 others were already on the Rock, waiting for the show to begin. Some groups of people kept their distance from others, but most walked about confidently in the dark, adjusting their eyes to the moonlight and connecting with others who had come to witness the event. People were chatting, singing, playing guitars, and cuddling -- but after a while, nearly all were flat on their backs gazing at the expanse of sky above them. The cloud cover was thick at times, but at around 11:30pm, windows of clear sky began to appear. I didn't take any pictures, but here's an image similar to what I saw:

I stayed on the Rock until around 2:45am, when the cloud cover became more dense and showed no signs of clearing up. Many people stayed on the mountain all night, laying either on blankets or bare rock, sleeping peacefully under the stars.

While last night was the peak viewing for Perseid, hundreds of meteors will still be visible over the next few evenings. I highly recommend this experience, even if it means a groggy beginning to the following morning.

What a joy it is to live in such a beautiful universe, and how wonderful it is to share this beauty with other human beings!

--Dan Edge