Theater review: Snowbound at Asheville Community Theatre
The dramatic equivalent of seasonal comfort food awaits in Snowbound, a delightful introduction to the holidays that’ll warm the Asheville Community Theatre stage for the next two weekends.
The two-act play comes courtesy of Asheville writer and musician Tom Godleski, who also excels as the show’s quasi-master of ceremonies, keeping the music flowing on upright bass and lead vocals alongside his talented bluegrass band.
The quartet is among the numerous locals and visitors at the Marshall, NC, train depot on Christmas Eve 1955 as a snowstorm barrels through the Southeast. Their predicament is nicely set up by a framing device of a present-day family of four, positioned on a comfy sofa (situated in the audience left wings), whose airline pilot patriarch Harry (Doug Denton) is the son of one of the central timeline’s players.
Reveling his role as storyteller, Harry establishes the scene for his wife Anne (Tara Theodossis) and their children, and the curtain sweeps back to reveal a stunning retro set designed by Julie Ross, bustling with holiday travelers whose lives soon begin to intersect to charming degrees, often assisted by Godleski’s ensemble.
Director Lori Hilliard keeps the audience’s eyes active with frequent movement by the ensemble, decked in convincing period attire from Deborah R. Austin. Though it’s not always clear where to look among the activity, there’s never the sense that important details are being missed, largely thanks to the action consistently flowing to easily-identifiable speakers.
In addition to the potentially delayed plans stemming from the winter weather impeding locomotive travel to Knoxville as well as non-rail movement to surrounding towns and hollers, Snowbound’s other main conflict involves the depot, whose fate is in the hands of railroad higher-up Mr. Gable (a smartly Scrooge-ish Chris Short) and the station’s kindly conductor (Jack Heinen).
Beyond those two main points, the narrative is a somewhat amorphous mingling of reminiscences of favorite Christmases and contemporary gambits in the name of young love — many of which Godleski reveals in his program notes are “based on true stories, or parts of true stories” he’s heard from family and friends — augmented by fairly polished singing and dancing beyond the band.
To the playwright’s credit, practically every statement has purpose, there’s minimal idle talk, all of the proverbial Chekhov’s Guns go off, and nearly everyone gets a chance to sparkle.
As the community’s elderly matriarch Vernie, Emily Sansbury is as integral in setting the mountain milieu as the music and backdrop. Her wisdom and hospitality come through in each line and gesture, the combination of which is crucial in keeping spirits high in the face of mounting obstacles.
In the role of her curmudgeonly son Bob, Dean Fowler has the best “theater face” of the cast and uses it well, especially when his stage mother’s prized baked goods are on the line. Elsewhere, college sweethearts Sarah (Audrey Wells) and Jack (John T. Ross) come off a little too "aw, shucks” enamored with one another, occasionally to the detriment of their singing, dancing and overall interactions as a pair. Even there, the duo’s positivity ultimately wins out and Ross winds up delivering one of the play’s funniest lines in a second-act encounter with soldier Pete (Robert Prevatt).
While Snowbound is accurately billed as a family-friendly show, it’s also worth noting that the production is especially kid-heavy with a generous dose of singing dancing, and acting by the younger cast members. Standing out among the 13 child performances, the hilarious rambunctious energy of modern-day youths Paige Gorczynski and Anderson Bowman perfectly conveys the sugar-rush excitement that greets many youngsters in the waning hours of each Dec. 24.
Back at the depot, the confident turn by Henry Cowan as Harry’s then nine-year-old future father is a pleasure to behold, and his fellow preteens in the children’s choir generally follow the social norms of their age group, with the boys ably going through the motions but not quite as invested in their performances as the girls.
The constant beneath these performances, and arguably the main attraction, is the band’s heartfelt interpretations of holiday standards, plus a few originals such as the titular song, which the musicians perform center stage and in turn provide the show with its biggest creative spark.
A testament to the material’s drag-free pace, like Christmas itself, the play is over before one realizes, leaving attendees and participants alike to return to their daily lives — albeit with a dose of holiday magic that’s sure to linger.
Snowbound runs Nov. 30-Dec. 16, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, visit ashevilletheatre.org
(Photo: Studio Misha Photography)