By Susan McCabe
For Vashon Repertory Theatre/Vashon Theatre Fest
“You’ve seen a million people like us already … We’ve had a house and a home just like your own, settled down and had a job of work just about like you. Then something hit us, and we lost all of that.”
This opening line to the final song in Act I of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” is, for some, the crux of his writings. As the opening performance of Vashon Repertory Theatre’s live two-weekend Vashon Theatre Fest, the show sets the tone for the festival with personal stories made universal.
In a recent interview, playwright Peter Glazer said “What I learned doing the show is what happens when a set of words and a song and its music interact to create a chemical reaction — where something happens that the music or the words alone just can’t do. I didn’t know what it would do until I saw audiences respond to it.”
Since Glazer conceived the show in 1977, audiences have experienced that chemical reaction in at least 75 different productions around the country. Now theatre lovers can see it performed live from July 22 to August 1 on Vashon.
The show’s source is Guthrie’s writings from the 1930s through the 1950s, when, as Glazer puts it, Guthrie wrote almost obsessively.
“It was like Walt Whitman meets Rain Man,” Glazer said of Guthrie’s output.
The show’s musical director, Kat Eggleston, claimed that while Guthrie wrote of hard times, America’s poor and migrant workers, “…he was always looking for the light at the end of the tunnel; always looking for the truth. And the truth is complicated.”
In the spirit of Guthrie himself, “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” is a play that has evolved over time with the skills and talents of the people who’ve performed it. Once they got the okay from Guthrie’s estate, Glazer and music arranger Jeff Waxman workshopped the show intermittently for more than ten years at New York’s Writers’ Theatre. Glazer said they really didn’t know what the show would turn into, but they did know there would be harmony and it would not be a one-person show.
“I didn’t want to write a biography of Woody Guthrie,” said Glazer. “I was more interested in where his music came from and how it related to people.”
Woody wrote about problems that existed in his day which are still part of American life — how many immigrants, poor people, migrant and essential workers are exploited and treated poorly.
Music Director Eggleston – a veteran who performed the show in Chicago — called the play “a letter to society at large.”
This play marks the second collaboration between Eggleston and director Charlotte Tiencken. Three years ago, the two joined forces to produce Eggleston’s acclaimed play “The Cyclone Line” about her father’s childhood Dust Bowl experiences. Eggleston said the passion she and Tiencken share for this show is permeating the entire production.
The show’s cast includes Jon Whalen, Hailey Quackenbush, JD Hobson, Michael Shook, Alex Drissell, Alyssa Norling, Susan Lewis and Jackie Domi. The show’s band is made up of Mark Graham, Orville Johnson, Steve Meyer and Kat Eggleston.
Performances of Woody Guthrie’s American Songbook will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 22; 2 p.m. Saturday, July 24; 6 p.m. Sunday, July 25; 6 p.m. Friday, July 30; and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 31 and Sunday, Aug. 1. All performances are at Ober Park.
More on Vashon Theatre Fest
During the last two weekends of July, the Vashon Theatre Fest will host 33 performances in four different venues of five distinct productions. Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” features political intrigue, sorcery, romance, and a gang of rude clowns as the Duke of Milan seeks revenge on his enemies. “Fail Better – Beckett Moves UMO” tackles life, death, and the mundane with comedy, metaphor, stillness – and a giant seesaw. The only indoor performance, “Bo-Nita” uses humor, pathos, and a dash of Midwest magical realism, to follow a mother and daughter’s journey through a working-class America of dwindling resources. “Plays In A Snap!” will showcase new theatrical creations with readings on Snapdragon Café’s outdoor patio.
All the Fest’s performances will be staged according to the state and county’s current COVID guidelines. Individual tickets ranging from $15 to $20 are available online at vashonrepertorytheatre.org. Weekend passes, also available online, can turn the Vashon Theatre Fest into an affordable weekend staycation complete with discounts for patrons at select Island restaurants and businesses.