This article is © 2003 the Times-World Corp.
   Thursday, January 23, 2003 

'Medicine, Man' Review 
Comedy in this year's Norfolk Southern Festival of New Works and the first play ever commissioned by Mill Mountain Theatre provides plenty of laughs
 by Beth Jones

Southwest Virginia takes centerstage in "Medicine, Man," a comic yarn by native Jeffrey Stanley.  The protagonist lives here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Calvin Barker is a passionate connoisseur of NASCAR, beer and generally living the "Appalachian lifestyle."

Calvin is handsome, good-natured and immensely likeable as played by Sean Hayden, but the character comes dangerously close to stereotype due to the way he was written.  Calvin is too much like a good old boy from the "Dukes of Hazzard." 

However, I was enchanted by Hayden's lovely singing voice and Calvin's seriously funny dialogue.  "I got charisma, what can I say?" he explains.

The play opens with Calvin visiting a hospital room.  Earlier that day, he'd found his mother in a coma on the floor of her home--ruining his plans to spend the evening watching a big auto race with some of his buddies.

Calvin has no one to help him through this crisis.  He isn't close to his movie-producing sister Tracy (Sarah Yorra).  His race-car driving Daddy was killed when the heater in a hunting trailer blew up.  His trashy, bleach-blonde "domestic partner" Alabama (Sarah Dandridge) just left town.  [His mother's minister Preacher Bobby (George Hosmer) also arrives on the scene but has an agenda of his own beyond consoling Calvin.] 

Luckily, Calvin forms an unlikely friendship with his mother's attractive doctor, Sue Morrison (Janelle Schremmer).

All of the characters have mysterious encounters with a Cherokee medicine man named Swimmer (Bev Appleton), who speaks some of the play's most poignant lines.  Humans, he tells us, are reborn again and again.  Some don't learn from their mistakes and must learn the same lesson many times.

Directed by Jere Lee Hodgin, "Medicine, Man" is the second of three plays in the lineup for this year's Norfolk Southern Festival of New Works.  It's the first play ever to be commissioned by Mill Mountain Theatre.

Two years ago during the festival, Mill Mountain staged the regional premiere of Stanley's wonderful "Tesla's Letters," set in the war-torn Yugoslavia of the 1990s.  In that play, Stanley told a story that managed to combine Franklin County moonshine, the ill-fated Yugo and inventor Nikola Tesla.  With "Medicine, Man" he starts off with NASCAR and finishes with a message about the importance of learning to fulfill one's true purpose.

Stanley is an inventive storyteller, one with a promising future.  Despite its problems, "Medicine, Man" is an entertaining romp with lots of potential.

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