Connections . . . so many connections. The character of Woody Guthrie walked into the light of CenterStage. His voice and guitar touched me. Woody became my past. Like opening a nesting doll with each new doll a version of a previous doll. Each song and story revealed more and more personal history. Revelation after revelation flooded over and through me. Such is excellent theater.
Oxford Town in the afternoon, Ev'rybody singin' a sorrowful tune, Two men died 'neath the Mississippi moon, Somebody better investigate soon.
On stage and in my mind Woody became a young Bob Dylan, just as perhaps Robert Zimmerman became Wood Guthrie on his transformation into the figure that took children of the sixties from rock and roll to folk music . . . to the blues . . . and back to rock and roll with music that often broke your heart and made you feel sad and glad at the same time.
Bob Dylan wasn't physically there at CenterStage, but Randy Noojin was. The one-man production was "Hard Travelin' With Woody". His solo play with music was based on the life, art, and music of Woody Guthrie. I didn't know what to expect other than the song "Roll on Columbia", which is its own nesting doll based on "Goodnight, Irene" (Huddie Ledbetter and John Lomax). In the end "Roll on Columbia" was never sung. He sang Grand Coulee Dam, instead. Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of 'thrity-three, For the farmer and the factory and all of you and me, He said, "Roll along, Columbia, you can ramble to the sea, But river, while you're rambling, you can do some work for me.
Hard Travelin' was a slice of life giving us the premise of Woody as an honored guest at a union hall with the only pay a free meal and an appreciative audience. We were treated to a tale of the Great Depression, the "Dust Bowl," people doing whatever the could to merely exhist for another day, and the Second World War.
I grew up hearing my mom, born in (Chickasha, Oklahoma) singing "Oklahoma Hills". Her twin sister, Viginia and their parents moved to Nevada, Missouri where they graduated from high school in 1940 along with my father. I remember her breaking into song at our home on South Ferry in Tacoma. She might sing Boomer sooner, boomer sooner the fight song of University of Oklahoma, "Mockin'bird Hill" or Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin' my pony on the reservation, In those Oklahoma hills where I was born. Now, 'way down yonder in the Indian Nation, A cowboy's life is my occupation, In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
The Great Depression saw millions of people out of work, but as Woody says, "broke, but not broken." My dad lived by himself earning money delivering papers and sweeping out the local barbershop to put himself through high school. "The Sinking of the Reuben James" is a song by Woody Guthrie about the sinking of the U.S. convoy escort, the Reuben James, which was the first U.S. naval ship sunk by German U-boats in World War II. Woody sang the song for us as the projection screen scrolled the names of the sailors who went down with their ship. Woody servered as a Merchant Marine and a soldier in the army. As a sailor he was torpedoed twice. My father served in the Merchant Marines in the South Pacific and watched torpedoes approach and miss his ship. Woody sang about the plight of farm workers and those who give their all to raise families . . . like miners. His message was that we can all make a difference if we work together.
When accused of being a communist he replied, "I ain't a Communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life."
Randy has acted in hundreds of plays in regional theatres, Off- and Off-Off Broadway in New York and in film and television. He had a 30-year working relationship as actor and playwright with Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) in Mars Hill, North Carolina. He holds an MFA in Performance from Arizona State University and an MFA in Playwriting from The University of Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop. He's appeared on stage and on TV in numerous roles and written plays.
Woody said, "If you play more than two chords, you're showing off." He sang what he felt. It was obvious that Noojin played more than two chords and he sang what he felt. The audience of nesting dolls felt what he felt. Encouraged we sang along. I didn't join in on every song. Mostly I enjoyed hearing my wife sing in the seat next to me with my hand resting on her knee. The songs, the feelings, the images, and the ideas washed over us all. This land is your land This land is my land, From California to the New York island; From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, This land was made for you and Me.
The 2015-2016 season at CenterStage features a mixture of one-person shows and full productions. No fear, they'll all entertain. Go online to centerstagetheatre.com for tickets or call the box office at 253-661-1444.