Twists, Turns and Levitation?
Two Plays from Victor Depta's collection, Plays from Blair Mountain, were performed at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia in 2002.
Victor Depta, a West Virginia playwright, has produced a rare combination of humor, awareness and acute human insight with his work, Tales from Blair Mountain. Despite what notions or preconceptions you might have, you’ll find that Tales from Blair Mountain is not your typical Appalachian play.
Two one-act comedies with Appalachian themes, and written by an Appalachian writer, will be brought to life on Barter’s Stage II. Everyone Who Thirsts and The Egg of the World combine to illustrate West Virginia mountain culture. Once you think you know these characters, you realize you don’t. Everyone Who Thirsts explores each character’s view on life, religion and love, which is prompted by a strange visitor to the Miltton’s front porch. There are many revelations in this story; however, is it the characters’ desire to change the path which life is taking them down, or a miracle? Audiences will appreciate the discovery of each character through humor, self-discovery and even levitation.
The second comedy is The Egg of the World. As an artistic director and stage manager produce a video hopefully to receive grant money, they discover a deeper story than they ever expected. Go behind the scenes of two brothers and their older sister as they unravel family secrets and learn how to find humor and “make do” with what they have.
This production is a great example of Appalachian literature and culture containing drama, tension, humor and heartbreak. Victor Depta’s masterful writing is brought to life to entertain as only Barter Theatre can.
Esprit, the Newsletter of Barter Theatre, Spring 2002, vol 10, issue 1
Tales from Blair Mountain
The dense mountains of Appalachia have inspired a great deal of folklore and mythology. There is something mysterious here. The winding, one-lane road that disappears into the mists of the hollow. We can’t know what goes on up in there. We can’t get there. The road is washed out. There is no map. We might get lost and never return, becoming part of the folklore ourselves. “Tourists disappear into the pre-dawn fog of Appalachia.” A certain section of the Appalachian Mountains carry the name, the Smokies. If that doesn’t inspire mystery I don’t know what doesn’t.
Interestingly, right alongside the mythological and folkloric Appalachia, there lives the frighteningly real Appalachia. These same misty hollows that inspire folklore have as well inspired a rash of documentary renderings of Appalachia. Every documentary filmmaker out there comes with camera in hand. It seems to me that the documentary is simply an attempt at de-mystifying the mystical mountain of Appalachia. Oddly, I’ve never seen a documentary film on the subject that succeeds in the de-mystification (and I’ve seen many documentary films on the subject). Indeed, the opposite is accomplished.
The two one-act plays that make up Tales from Blair Mountain don’t attempt to de-mystify Appalachia but, instead, they accomplish something I have yet to see elsewhere; they bring together the myth and the reality of Appalachia. It’s not folklore and it’s not documentary. Blair Mountain is something else that doesn’t have a name as of yet.
The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains on the continent. You can see it. Compared to the high and rigid Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians have been worn down and grown over through eons of time. The millions of years that combined to give these mountains their unique place in our geography have been given a new twist in the last fifty years. Strip mining has taken away some of these grandparental mountains in the geographical wink of an eye. How does this fit with the rest of the mystery? The real-life Blair Mountain is a place that once existed and is now lost to strip mining. It is gone. Stripped away. Millions of years of effort vanished. Tales from Blair Mountain takes this new twist on Appalachian history and weaves it into the folklore.
One of my favorite things about a career in the theatre is that one learns not to judge, not to categorize characters. You take them for what they are, not what they would be categorized as. I have learned that this same idea is true in life as well. To categorize, to stereotype human beings is to limit them. When the stereotype is closely examined, we find that there is no stereotype at all, only individuals reacting to the world around them. Tales from Blair Mountain is a fine example of this. It doesn’t deny the world that surrounds these people but, at the same time, it doesn’t limit them to the conventional stereotype. The play and its characters are the convergence of the myth and the reality of Appalachia.