WESTON — Over the course of his life, Woody Guthrie found his way all over the United States, giving a public voice to the have-nots in the United States who struggled to make a living when others were making a killing. With well-known songs such as “This Land is Your Land,” “This Train is Bound for Glory” and “Going Down That Road Feelin’ Bad,” his canon has become part of our nation’s vocabulary, even if we only know versions covered by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and the Grateful Dead.
Weston Theater Company closes its summer season with “Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie.” Devised by David M. Lutkin and Nick Corley, it weaves a musical narrative of Guthrie’s hardscrabble life and emergence as one who felt a responsibility to speak and sing for all of the folks out there. Performed by Lutkin as Guthrie on guitar and harmonica, together with a talented ensemble of actor/musicians, last Friday’s opening night audience was alternately transfixed and charmed by stories and tunes that stirred and got feet tapping and hands clapping.
By his own take, David M. Lutkin has now performed as Woody Guthrie in over 1,000 productions of “Woody Sez” around the world. For all of that, Lutkin, a tall bag of bones, never appeared slick or tired of the material Guthrie’s life furnished. Rather, his “ah shucks” manner and Texas drawl invited us in, when, as Guthrie, he sang of the Dust Bowl and riding the rails. Guthrie’s traipsing around the country from hootenannies and radio shows, of course, had its costs, including a failed first marriage and too much drink, which Lutkin’s Woody Guthrie appreciated fully.
Everyone in the cast played at least one instrument and took turns on lead as different events in the singer’s life came to the fore. Mimi Bessette played guitar, stand-up bass and autoharp, and displayed a lilting soprano. One of the many roles she portrayed onstage was that of Guthrie’s mother, beset at an early age with the terrible symptoms of Huntington’s, a hereditary disease that would claim her life and much later, Woody’s.
Spiff Wiegand sported a clear tenor singing voice and played a mean banjo, as well as spoons. Wiegand slipped easily into one role as an emcee of a radio show broadcast from New York City who fumed when Guthrie refused to just sing without ruffling the feathers of corporate sponsors and other powers that be.
Nyssa Grant played mandolin and fiddle and boasted a sweet alto that meshed well with Bessette’s soprano. Throughout the evening, Grant rendered haunting interpretations of “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” painting parallels between the lives of Guthrie and John Steinbeck’s Okie creation in the novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The show’s title is taken from a series of newspaper columns that Guthrie penned for the People’s Daily during the Thirties. What Woody said (and sez) and sang is a not-so-gentle reminder that everybody has worth and that we are in this together, even when at loggerheads. “Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,” is well worth our listening.
Performances of “Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,” continue through Oct. 23 inside at Weston’s alternative space at Walker Farm, just a stone’s throw north on Route 100 from Weston Village. In the gallery, there are several clippings and other information about Woody Guthrie and the folk music revival that he helped nourish. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at 802-824-5288 or visit its website at westontheater.org. Patrons are reminded that masks are required when entering the building.