PLAINFIELD – Anyone allergic to corn had better steer clear of Goddard College’s Haybarn Theater until Plainfield Little Theatre’s world premiere production of “Moonshine in Vermont” closes Nov. 17. For J.C. Myers’ delightfully ridiculous tale of the rural approach to Prohibition is pure corn – fortunately, pure-as-maple syrup Vermont corn.
And Plainfield Little Theatre, the venerable rural community theater, delivered that corn in bushels – perhaps a few too many – at Saturday’s second-night performance, thanks to the irrepressible wit of the script and a largely excellent cast, all directed by Tom Blachly.
When the slick young Boston whisky-runner Winston Thomas, being chased by the Feds, runs his Packard into a ditch, he seeks help at the nearest farm – but finds himself confronted by Vermont.
The farmer Carlton Peas – and a mechanic as well – and his hired hand Henry are friendly enough and more than willing to help, but in their own very unhurried way. In the meantime, Federal Agent Vincent Comstock and his lieutenant, Arnold Young, whose own Packard has suffered the same fate, have found their way to Town Constable Norris – a bootlegger, as well.
That leaves time for romance. Winston quickly discovers the lovely schoolmarm Phoebe, a Wellesley grad boarding at the Peas farm, but she won’t leave Vermont. And Martha, the constable-bootlegger’s “live-in maid,” brings out the white knight in the sensitive copper Arnold.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about everything.
“Moonshine in Vermont” is the Calais writer’s first play and frankly it shows. Enjoying the recent success of his debut novel, “Junkyard at No Town,” Myers has a real ear for Vermont humor and its stereotypical characters. But at two and a half hours, this trifle of a tale is over-told. That said, it was a lot of fun.
Much of that fun was due to delightful comic portrayals. Setting the pace for the entire show were Bob Carmody as farmer Peas and Myers as the hired hand Henry, played as stereotypical hick Vermonters. They were just what we wanted them to be – and deliciously funny to boot.
Among the “straight” characters, Ryan Leclerc gave Winston an unexpected depth – and wit – matched by the earnestness of Pollaidh Major’s Phoebe. Truly memorable was Bob Hannan’s portrayal of the officious and slightly stupid Agent Comstock.
The show’s love triangle was centered on Susannah Blachly’s “earthy Vermont woman” Martha. Adam Woogmaster was wonderfully over the top as her “lover” Norris, the nearly insane Town Constable, while Chris Pratt was warm and sensitive as the unhappy Agent Young. The remainder of the cast varied greatly in ability and success, as is the plight of community theater.
The productions problems were twofold. First, it was much too long. It is in need of professional editing. This could be considered a workshop production.
Secondly, the staging committed the usual sin of community theater: literalness. Every time there was a change of scene – and this could be in less than 5 minutes – there was a complete set change. Implied settings with a few set pieces are as effective as a full set and allow for much faster scene changes. In fact, they are often much more effective dramatically.
That said, “Moonshine in Vermont” is full of delights – particularly for Vermonters. And it could become even better.