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June 8, 2017
Review: Woody Sez
David M. Lutken in WOODY SEZ at Irish Rep. Photo by Carol Rosegg

If you haven't yet made plans to see Woody Sez at the Irish Repertory Theatre, do. The show is two hours of pure string-plucking, chord-strumming, foot-stomping, storytelling delight. Through a combination of music and narration, a cast of four musician-actors tell the story of one of America's greatest songwriters: Woody Guthrie.

Guthrie is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our country that most people know his songs without knowing who wrote them. A driven social activist as well as a prolific songwriter and energetic performer, Guthrie wrote American folk classics like "This Train is Bound for Glory," "Car Song" and, of course, "This Land Is Your Land." He influenced musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 - to name but a few.

But before becoming an American folk legend, Guthrie struggled through a life full of hardship and struggle, from a poverty-stricken childhood with a mother who suffered from Huntington's to the Depression, Dust Bowl, and WWII. Maybe his vast wealth of experience explains why his songs resonate so widely and so deeply.

In this case, it also helps that he has a cast of energetic and highly proficient folk musicians telling his story. David M. Lutken plays Woody Guthrie with a mix of passion, humor, and exuberance that makes for a deeply compelling and moving portrait of the man. Strumming his guitar absently as he tells his story, Lutken succeeds in fusing Guthrie's music and life into a seamless whole. As his supporting cast, Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, and Andy Teirstein are equally exuberant. It's a nice touch that Lutken, Russell, and Teirstein also "devised" the play, along with Nick Corley (who directs) and Darcie Deaville. Instruments played include guitar, banjo, fiddle, double bass, harmonica, Jew's harp, and spoons.

Another nice touch is the play's Homeric references. The program calls Guthrie "a Homeric figure," and he certainly seems like someone who might have stepped out of a Homeric work: a restless traveler with a gift for poetic eloquence, Guthrie effected his own Odyssey - from one end of the country to the other. He journeyed by foot, train, car, and boat. And he underwent several Odysseus-esque transformations - from poor Oklahoman boy to Dust Bowl Farmer, celebrated musician, and, finally, silent, stoic sufferer bowed by Huntington's Disease. But is Guthrie Odysseus? Or is he Homer? A gifted poet capable of articulating his countrymen's plight, Guthrie could arguably be either one.

As Woody says in the play: "I never knew the human race was this big. I never knew the fight had been going on so long." Throughout, Guthrie's stories kept reminding me of events happening today; and I noticed there were far too few young people in the audience. It's time American youth met Woody Guthrie. As members of the human race and the latest comers to the fight, I think today's young people, like so many from the 1930's onward, will find in Guthrie a fitting champion. And Woody Sez is the perfect introduction.

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Interview: David M. Lutken on Playing Woody Guthrie All Over the World

By Erin Kahn

Woody Sez (at the Irish Repertory Theatre through July 23) tells the story of American folk-protest singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie in his own words. The show features over 30 of Woody’s songs, played on a range of instruments, from the guitar and violin to the dulcimer and the spoons. David M. Lutken, who co-devised the show, stars as Woody, supported by a cast of equally talented, high-energy musician actors. In a rare moment of downtime, Lutken spoke to us about creating Woody Sez, playing the show for audiences around the world, and maintaining high energy for every performance. Of course, we also talked about Woody Guthrie himself. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of creating Woody Sez? I’ve been a musician all my life, playing folk music and all other kinds of music. And in 1988, I met Harold Leventhal, who was Woody Guthrie’s old manager. Of course, there are many shows that have been done over the years about Woody Guthrie and his music. And I met Mr. Leventhal in 1988 doing another one of those shows. It’s a great show, still out there, and gets done quite often. And over the years of knowing him for the next twelve or fifteen years, he decided that he liked …Read more

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Written by: Erin Kahn
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