Getting Back to Live Theatre

I’m often reluctant to write a column about a live local performance because it’s hard to close that door once it’s opened. We’re blessed to live in a community with boundless musical and dramatic talent and energy. If I write about one play or concert or storytelling festival, how can I say not to writing about all of them?

Today, I’m making an exception.

A couple of weeks ago, two friends and I travelled the scenic backroads up the plateau to see a matinee performance of “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” at the Cumberland County Playhouse. It was the first time any of us had sat in a theatre seat since Covid hit. That fact alone is column-worthy. But add to it that one of the friends is Kathy Gilpatrick, who for decades has been a cornerstone of community theatre in Cookeville, and you have a real adventure.

The line of people waiting to be seated snaked around the lobby. The smell of popcorn wafted through the air. Tears welled up in Kathy’s eyes. “I’m beside myself,” she said. “It’s really, really hard not to cry. Who could have known a year ago that doing something like this could make me so giddy?” We sat near the back of the theatre and talked about how much we love its barn-style design. I went to the restroom not so much because I needed to but because I adore the saloon-inspired swinging stall doors.

Then the play began. Going in, I didn’t know much about it other than that it was a comedy-with-a-message, written in 2004 by Mitch Albom. He’s a writer I like a lot, partly because of his poignant memoir “Tuesdays with Morrie” but mostly because of his newspaper columns. One he wrote twenty years ago about why the Ten Commandments don’t belong on a courthouse lawn remains among my favorite columns of all times, primarily because I agree with him. I’m not as big a fan of his novels, most of which are cut from the same cloth and too sentimental for my tastes.

The word sentimental could also be applied to “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel.” It’s the story of two bumbling brothers from Alabama who believe they’ve accidentally shot an angel. As they lament their fate in a murky swamp, they’re pursued by a cynical tabloid journalist and his reluctant photographer, who don’t believe any of the story until they find feathers, wings and a tiara. Amidst the laughs, which are plentiful, are some important take-aways about race relations, the media, cultural and geographic stereotypes and true love. Though the plot is sometimes hard to follow, especially at the end, the play’s message is clear: If you choose the fast-track in life, you just might miss the good stuff.

All the actors were top-notch. The set was brilliant in its simplicity. The only glitch in the performance came just a couple of minutes after the start of Act Two, when a loud POP sounded and the lights went dark. An area-wide power outage was to blame but was, thank goodness, short-lived.

No one in the audience seemed to mind the interruption. Most remained quietly in their seats, though a few visited the restrooms, perhaps to admire the saloon doors. A handful of folks went outside to smoke or walk around. As for me, I took my notebook and pen to the lobby, where I found a bench near a window and jotted down notes for this column. When the electricity came on, I went back to my seat, immensely grateful for a delightful return to live theatre.

Only two performances of “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” remain: June 20 (tomorrow) and June 24 (Thursday), both at 2:30 p.m. Catch it if you can.

(June 19, 2021)