The Stories That We Told Live Among Us at Knowâ€™s Gnarly Stump
Review by Shawn Maus of Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump: Know Theatre
Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump is an enthralling blend of Appalachian and old European mythology seamlessly worked into a modern setting. In this world premiere, written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin and commissioned by Know Theatre, you canâ€™t help but be drawn in by this captivating tale. Itâ€™s poignant and beautifully told, using stories that are mostly inspired by traditional folk tales with a magical blend of Appalachian music.
On the darkest night of the year, residents of a secluded Appalachian town gather at local pub, The Gnarly Stump, to share ghost stories and songs. When an outsider arrives reporting the mysterious disappearance of her sister the lines between story and reality become blurred.
What makes this production a breath of fresh winter air is that it is staged in the Underground; the bar/second stage. When you walk in scenic design by Andrew Hungerford has transformed the Underground into a front porch paradise, with original artifacts hung on the clapboard walls that give it a homespun appeal, much like a Cracker Barrel.
Paul Strickland and Linsey Rogers come up on the music area for a pre-show blend of people music; some are old, pre-radio songs with the rich musical traditions of 19th-century Appalachia. Strickland and Rogers arenâ€™t just the background music and underscore (a clever thread of â€œAlso Sprach Zarathustraâ€ brings a bit of subversive humor to Sherriff Everettâ€™s pontification about UFOâ€™s versus fey people); they also tell stories through their lyrics and songs. The show is billed as a â€œghost story with musicâ€. But Strickland has chosen, and even written, tunes that accentuate the superstition and moonshining link of the Anglo-Celtic immigrants who settled in Appalachia.
The marvelous ensemble of actors puts flesh to the bones of old stories and fears of a world where fairies live just beyond the perimeter of our daily lives. Each character is deep and witty and wise. They take us into the magic, through it, and out the other side. Each storyteller has a masterful blend of the sinister, the fantastic and the humorous.
Director Brant Russell has faithfully brought to life Hynek and Martinâ€™s intricately structured vision, full of a wealth of fine detail about music and things magical and arcane. Their ability to take what could have been a mundane campfire tale and fuse it with the strange gives us a gift of contemporary holiday fantasy set deep in the mythic literature and music of our time. I was certainly swept into another and very fascinating world of language, music and high imagination. I hated that it had to come to an end.
The closing song sums up the feelings of this night â€œThe stories that you told; may they live, ever more, among us.â€
Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump plays at the Know Theatre through December 17th. Tickets may be obtained at their website, www.knowtheatre.com.