Alliance Theatre has opened its new season with a world premiere musical called “Darlin’ Cory,” featuring a book by Phillip Depoy (“Edward Foote”), music by Kristian Bush (Sugarland’s Grammy-winning front man), with lyrics by Depoy and Bush. The production is directed by Alliance Artistic Director Susan V. Booth and runs through Oct. 3.
I spent a little time as a child on vacations with my parents to Gatlinburg, TN, not far from Sevierville. I’ve never forgotten the cool nights (in the summer), the ever-present morning fog, particularly noticeable in the 40-mile trip from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina, where we would inevitably spot a bear or two poking its head from the forest. It makes one wonder—what other secrets do these ancient mountains, some 480 million years old, hold?
“Darlin’ Cory”asks that question. Set in the 1930s in a tiny mountain town with no roads in or out, the attitudes and beliefs of an ambitious young woman and the town’s pastor collide and threaten to spill the community’s long-held secrets. Add the arrival of mysterious stranger and the best moonshine anyone’s ever tasted and the town’s facade is ready to crack.
Meanwhile, Preacher Man likes his women illiterate; that includes his wife Truegood (Katie Deal) and daughter Honor (Asia Rogers), though she has some spunk and wants more for her life. Oddly, Bailey’s chief adversary is a girl, a young woman named Clara (Gillian Rabin), who lives with her mother called Mama Grace (Rhyn McLemore). Clara has a piece of Spanish news (as Maggie would say in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) for the pastor. I can’t tell you what it is; this play has secrets.
Come to think of it, Asia’s relationship with Cory in the second act is also lovely. (I know; who’s Cory? Can’t tell you—secrets, remember?) I’m also not going to reveal more of a rather convoluted plot. If you see the play, it will all unfold.)
Would you like some moonshine? How about a pair of Native American spiritualists called the Crow Sisters ( Jewl Carney and Maria Rodriguez-Sager) who sing “I Saw What You Did.” These two sort of come and go at will. They function partly as a Greek chorus. My favorite song is “Prayer of No Words,” sung by the company. The music director is Brandon Bush, Kristian’s brother.
Even though “Darlin’ Cory” is fascinating and beautiful to look at (love Kara Harmon’s costumes), it isn’t particularly dramatically compelling—partly because the Coca-Cola’s big theatre can be a trap. I remember in “Edward Foote” most of the actors had a look of incipient madness in their eyes—terrific! At “Cory” I wasn’t close enough to the stage to notice such an effect.
Yet you will be very entertained; only the Alliance—our “national theatre with a local address”—can knock you flat even if the play isn’t a Pulitzer winner.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.