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By Donald V. Calamia
On paper, Williamston Theatre's current production of And The Creek Don't Rise sounds like a delightful summertime comedy. For starters, it's the world premiere of a script by local playwright Joseph Zettelmaier, whose previous efforts earned him local and national accolades. Then there's the cast – each of whom is among the best Michigan's industry has to offer. Then to top it off, the behind-the-scenes folks are fine artisans excellent at their crafts.
So with a pedigree this good, how could it miss, I asked myself on the drive to Williamston.
By 9:45 p.m. or so on opening night I had my answer – and based on the comments I overheard while standing in the theater's lobby after the performance, I suspect most people agreed with me: And The Creek Don't Rise is a sure-fire, don't-miss hit!
Zettelmaier's warm and charming story opens in Carson, Georgia where Rob (John Lepard) and Maddie (Kate Peckham) Graff have relocated from Michigan. Maddie, a veterinarian, arrived weeks before her unemployed and slightly older husband, and he's having a tough time adjusting to their new life. When their closest neighbor, retired doctor and Civil War re-enactor Dr. Benjamin Boggs (Thomas D. Mahard), comes a 'calling with a housewarming gift to welcome them to town, friction immediately develops between the men. And the "friendly" rivalry that ensues takes North-South aggression to hilarious, but potentially life-threatening extremes.
Zettelmaier, whose recent work includes It Came From Mars and Salvage, once again tackles fresh territory – this time, a fish-out-of-water story. And he does so by creating fully fleshed-out and believable characters that everyone can identify with and relate to. After all, who among us hasn't felt out of place at one time or another – at a new job, after moving into a different neighborhood or even at a party? But as usual, it's Zettelmaier's crisp dialogue that especially sparkles – enhanced by the superb delivery by the show's three actors.
Lepard is a master at delivering asides and quips, and one has to wonder if Zettelmaier wrote the role of Rob with Lepard in mind. (It's a perfect fit for the lanky actor.)
Peckham earns plenty of laughs with her "there's no doubt what I'm trying to tell you" facial expressions. And her intense focus never wavers.
And Mahard is thoroughly delightful as their proud and gentlemanly Southern neighbor. But keep a close watch on his face, because even the slightest change reveals much about his character's motives.
The production is well-served by director Joseph Albright, last seen in Williamston's While We Were Bowling. Zettelmaier's script is ultimately a story about human connections, and Albright expertly delivers both its warmth and its humor with great care and affection. His pacing is excellent, as well.
Daniel C. Walker's set – mostly the exterior of the Graff's house, plus various moveable set pieces – and Reid G. Johnson's lighting design effectively work together to tell the story. (What impressed and surprised me was the hospital bed: It was the quietest I'd ever seen; you never hear it come rolling onto the stage during a scene change.)
As the play opens, Rob calls his new hometown a place "where culture goes to die." That's certainly not the case with Williamston. Rather, with such fine programming courtesy of the Williamston Theatre, it's a destination where people can visit for a fine cultural experience!
SHOW DETAILS: And The Creek Don't Rise continues at Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam Rd., Williamston, Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 14. Tickets: $18-$24. For information: 517-655-7469 or www.williamstontheatre.org.
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