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Thursday, May 5, 2016

'Smoke on the Mountain' a thrill a minute

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS -- Going back in time 70 years has never been so enjoyable.

Beef and Boards Dinner Theater is inviting everyone for the next month to pull up a pew and become part of the congregation at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church for their production of "Smoke on the Mountain."

Set in Mount Pleasant, N.C. in 1938, the action centers around a small Baptist Church, which is hosting a special performance from the Sanders Family Singers.

The family; mother Vera, father Burl, uncle Stanley, eldest daughter June and twins Denise and Dennis, are a local group who sing and testify about the Lord. The reaction they get from the congregation, notably, two little, old ladies who don't "cotton to the idea of musical instruments in God's house" and a minister who feels upstaged, are just a small part of the show.

The whole experience is outstanding, and intensely funny. You know it's a great show when you see everyone wiping tears of laughter from their faces at intermission.

The sheer talent of the cast is evident throughout the performance. The musical talent alone is incredible. The entire cast plays several instruments each, including piano, violin, accordion, guitar, harmonica and ukulele. The eldest daughter June, contributes to the group playing spoons, a washboard, a mason jar full of beans, and coconuts.

While intensely funny, the play actually features very few one-liners, or slapstick routines. The humor is in the extremely realistic facial expressions and body postures of the gifted actors. They aren't acting, they are in character.

Mother Vera and father Burl, played by Pam Pendleton and Bob Payne, are the backbone of the family. In Pendleton's case, she's the epitome of the controlling southern mama who rules the roost with a steely glare and syrupy smile. Payne, as the father, is by turns guiding and clueless.

Jayson Elliott, as the prodigal uncle Stanley, shows his discomfort and quiet joy, at being invited back into the fold after an unfortunate incarceration. His testimony brought silence and a sense of "that poor man" which lasted until he broke into a song about learning from his mistakes.

The twins, played by Andrew M. Ross and Jennie Malone, were both charming, guileless and full of life.

Ross' demeanor of shyness and self-consciousness disappeared as he gave a testimony about his path in life.

Malone's performance showed a young girl eager to embrace life and chafing at the restrictions of her family.

One of the biggest treats of the night was the nuanced performance of Sarah Hund as eldest daughter June. Her painful attempts to be a part of a group when she doesn't sing or play an instrument rang true to life. Her contribution to the group is sign language.

Hund's creative mix of true signs and made-up words, had the congregation rolling in the aisles. Her desperation and sheer glee played off each other and allowed everyone to identify with the character. Truly a star performance.

John Vessels as the Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe was so realistic that you were sucked into the play before it even began. His delivery of the everyday announcements at the beginning of the show had you believing that you were in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. His facial expressions and body language spoke more than his lines.

A standing ovation at the conclusion of the show, showed that I wasn't the only one who had an uplifting time. It was an experience that lingered long after I left the theater.

One last note, the dinner was tasty, and the service supreme.

"Smoke on the Mountain" will have performances nightly until Aug. 12, with the exception of Mondays.

To make reservations, call the box office at 317-872-9664. Show times vary, and prices range from $32.50 to $52.50. For more information, visit www.beefandboards.com.

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