Knowâ€™s Gnarly Stump Lifts Your â€œSpirits”
Review by Liz Eichler of Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump: Know Theatre
Looking for something different this Holiday season, but still want to your spirits lifted? Know Theatre has an experience for you.
Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump, a world premiere written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, with music by Paul Strickland, is about a girl who searches for a lost sister (snatched by faeries), and meets a group of storytellers and musicians and enlists them to help her find her sister.
But it is really about the power of stories, spoken or sung. The stories that survive from generation to generation, that are told around the kitchen or holiday tables, which sometime take a life of their own. Every family has a story that depicts their uniqueness and strength, their values, and/or the colorful characters: great granddaddy, mee-maw, old auntie sue or whomeverâ€“your kin. This play celebrates them all, whether you are belt wearing people, suspender wearers, or as the people in this play say, â€œweâ€™re belt and suspenders kind of people.â€ Whether it is your story or someone elseâ€™s, the passing on from generation to generation celebrates the strength of the family. The goal of this play is to make you value these connections as well as BELIEVE in something logic cannot explain. (Many of us have family we find hard to explain!)
There are many strengths to this show; foremost is the music. Paul Strickland has written and performs wonderful music and accompaniment with Linsey Rogers. They are up and center, thankfully, so we can fully appreciate them as extraordinarily skilled musicians and animated listeners.
They set the tone as you walk into the environment and they are already playing. You look around, and you feel you have entered an inviting Cracker Barrel, with the cabaret tables with mismatched chairs and working class celebrated on the walls with firefighter coats, hand drills, propellers, and rag rugs. The only thing missing was the oversized checkers game by a fireplace, but the warm lighting keeps things cozy.
The strength of the music continues as the other performers walk in, creating beautiful harmonies. The ensemble consists of Lisa DeRoberts, Gabrielle DiVincenzo, Lormarev Jones, Lindsey Augusta Mercer, Michael Sherman and Derek Snow. They tell the story with skill and humor.
As a theatre piece, there are some issues with the story, the staging, and the costumes. These issues become more clear during a matinee when you realize that it is really a static play, versus authentic storytelling to a live audience. (The cast did ad lib about an audience cell phone going off.) I wanted it to be more live, more variable, with adaptations to the afternoon shows. The musicians are live and vividly in the moment, but at times the actors miss that same spark.
The couple at my table said they were looking for something new and fresh and musical, trying to escape the traditional Holiday stories. They were first timers at Know Theatre, and were very pleased with the music, and pleased that it was still an uplifting holiday story, after all.