Woody Guthrie's American Song


The following review appeared in the Mendocino Beacon, 7/6/2023

A review by Bill Fenley

‘So long it’s been good to know yuh – This dusty old dust is a-gittin’ my home -And I’ve got to be driftin’ along.” — Woody Guthrie

A spirited ensemble of Mendocino Theatre musicians and singer/storytellers alternate to play Guthrie while narrating, dancing, and singing his songs collected and written in wanders across America. Although observing misfortune leading to American social unrest, the music also celebrates individual and collective fortitude, ‘It takes a worried man to sing a worried song / I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.’ The empathy for disappointment, reflected in tones of folk/gospel, is punctuated with the upbeat energy of perseverance.

The production’s demands for pacing, transitions, blending narration, singing, mood, and scene shifts are made well by Stage Director Elizabeth Craven and Musical Director Jenni Windsor. Throughout the performance, the band, directed by David Alden, provides important musical supportive emphasis, a stunning violin solo, and subtle background to the action and varied stage settings, a crowded freight car, a camp of migrant workers, and a barroom. Band members over the production run may include Zoe Berna, Emily Berna, Kathleen Coleman, Daniel Coulson, Alex Miller, Meghan Miller, and Jim Gilbert. The cast of nine singer/storytellers may vary for specific performances: Carrie Fishman (mama, saloon singer, hobo woman), Maria Ramos (daughter, hobo girl, bowery girl), Audrey Ferguson (daughter, bowery girl, young woman), Byron Greene (folksinger, hobo boy), Lucas Kiehn-Thilman (searcher, Cisco), Larry Sawyer (hobo and folk singer), Steve Worthen (cripple Whitey, dad, barman, writer), Bessy Krauss (understudy for mama, saloon singer, hobo woman), and Sara Rose (understudy for daughter, hobo girl, bowery girl).

Broad stage lighting gives a sense of space during diverse centers of performance. A series of historically relevant black-and-white photos of events unfolding on stage enhances the experience.

To Director Craven, the essence of Guthrie’s music is that ‘it brings people together.’ ‘American Song’ is a shared, ebullient, and poignant celebration of musical Americana where, in the web of memory, you may find yourself singing, laughing, and touched by current relevancy, the delivery of Guthrie’s song ‘Deportee,’ perhaps form a tear.

Performances may be seen through August 20, 2023. Tickets may be purchased by online or by calling the box office at 707-937-4477.