'Mitford' offers small town feel

By Mary Ann Enloe | Apr 24, 2013
Photo by: Donated photo 'Welcome to Mitford' will be running weekends at HART through May 5.

HART's main stage season opener "Welcome to Mitford" is a delicious treat for everybody, young and old and in between.

"This one is for the community," said HART executive director Steven Lloyd.  "Everyone will like this."

Based on Jan Karon's wildly popular Mitford series of novels set in the mountains of North Carolina, the play's author Robert Inman adhered to Karon's instructions when he stitched the nine-novel series into a delightful two-act play.

That may sound as if it would result in a disjointed product, but nothing could be further from the truth. Libby Culbreth, who grew up in Waynesville and left to make a name for herself as an attorney in Washington, D.C., has read all nine Mitford novels. Her husband John Vanderstar, also a retired Washington, D. C. attorney, hasn't read any of them. Both loved the play.

"John wants to read them now," said Culbreth after the show.

The books and play center around an affable Episcopalian priest, bachelor Tim Kavanagh. In his first HART appearance, Waynesville attorney Bill Cannon plays the part as if he had been ordained. Father Kavanagh is glad the new next-door neighbor shows an interest in him, but he doesn't quite know what to do about it.

A Hollywood actress couldn't have played that neighbor any better than Haywood County native Buffy Queen. Queen's successful career as a filmmaker and producer took her to Los Angeles for awhile, but everybody won when she decided to return to her roots. Queen knows her way around a stage and spotlights love her.

The story unfolds in short vignettes that require a dozen or more set changes.  While stage hands deftly turn a front porch into an Episcopalian sanctuary or a park bench into a café, the audience listens to ethereal sounds of hammered dulcimer and guitar quietly playing old-time hymns in the background. Some at Saturday night's performance hummed along.

All 30 cast members deserve individual accolades. Since space doesn't permit that, it's safe to say each one is a star. It'll be hard for HART directorial veteran Wanda Taylor to top this one.

After the show, Lloyd said with his trademark wide smile, 'It's just a little town, isn't it?"

Yes, it's just a little town, and it's full of little-town characters. Who doesn't love that? G-rated and packed with laughs, this short sabbatical from strife may be just what folks need right now.

The play runs the weekend of May 5. Call 456-6322, or visitwww.harttheatre.com for more information.

HART executive director Steven Lloyd gave Saturday night's "Welcome to Mitford" audience the good news that Stage II, HART's projected second theater to be constructed next-door to the existing venue is almost to the half-way mark of its fundraising challenge.

"We'll be there if someone in the audience wants to donate $100,000 tonight," he said with a grin. Lloyd explained the reasoning behind building a second theater.

"In order to prepare for each show, we lose almost half our season. And each season has a $2.4 million year economic impact on the community. So we would double that $2.4 million economic impact if we didn't have to shutter at all during the season."

HART is funded entirely by private donations and ticket sales.