'Smoke on the Mountain' is Tuneful and Inspiring
Third Play Featuring the Sanders Family Singers
By ROBERT MCKINNEY | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | January 19, 2009Published: January 14, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier.
WYTHEVILLE, Va. ? Wytheville's Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre is kicking off 2009 with a truly wonderful mix of gospel music and "witnessing" as the Sanders Family Singers come back to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church for Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming.
This the third ? and I hope not the last ? play featuring the singing Sanders that includes Father Berl (Andrew Woodruff); Mother Vera (Maggie Gallagher); back-sliding Uncle Stanley (Tommy Hancock); signing Sister June (Jessica DeHart) and the twins Dennis and Denise (D. Justin Jewell and Sarah Shaffer). Dennis is the boy. And, of course, the good Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe (Sam Little).
It is Saturday night, Oct. 6, 1945, in the sanctuary of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, N.C., somewhere in or near the Blue Ridge.
It's the going-away celebration for Rev. Oglethorpe and his now-wife June, who is hugely pregnant. The reverend has answered a call to "round up souls for Jesus" in the wilds of western Texas, and Dennis Sanders is all set to assume the pulpit of Mount Pleasant Baptist.
The music and laughs come fast and furious in between monologues of "witnessing" that are alternately inspiring and interesting. Some of the witnessing gets more than a little preachy, but it's all done with good intentions, and it's obvious that the playwright Connie Ray has either spent time among the Baptists or has done her research really well.
Even if you don't enjoy gospel music, you'll be sorely tried not to find yourself tapping happily along with the lively numbers. More than two dozen are featured, including "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," "Shall We Gather at the River," "I Love to Tell the Story" and "Unclouded Day."
This is live music featuring guitars, banjos, violins, doghouse bass, mandolins, piano, accordion, washboard, toy piano, cowbells and quart Mason jars half full of pinto beans. Everybody seems to switch around and play everything before it's all over.
For the religious folks, be assured that even though this is a fun production, it never makes fun of religion or mountain people.
In fact, the very opposite is true. The music, beliefs and people are all handled with respectful and good-natured fun. And, for the not-so-religious, you won't be offended, taunted to advance on the mourners bench or be embarrassed into "putting something in the collection plate."
The pre-show dinner is delicious, the iced tea and coffee pots bottomless, the service excellent and an excellent selection of "potables" with a little more kick is available ? in a brown paper wrapped glass or bottle if you're afraid your pastor might show up and spot you.
Smoke runs through the second week in March. For dates, times and reservations, call (888) 950-3382 or visit www.wohlfahrthaus.com.