From director to playwright to cast, many of those participating in “Linthead,” a guest production at Santa Monica Playhouse, are alums of Carnegie Mellon.
That collegial camaraderie is evident throughout this flawed but evocative world premiere, which centers around the attempted unionization of a cotton mill in Depression-era South Carolina.
Playwright Brian Forrester’s classically straightforward yet timely plot hearkens back to the works of Horton Foote, Romulus Linney and other theatrical practitioners who invested their regional dramas with the linear progression and heft of Greek tragedy.
The moral center of the piece is proud loom mechanic Cotton-Eye Cothran (Eddie King). Disgusted by the collusion of influential local preacher (PJ Marshall) with mill manager Soop Green (Michael Dempsey), Cotton summons an outside “agitator” (Tristan Farmer) to get the union rolling.
What Cotton doesn’t realize is that his wife (Kristi Israel) has brokered a deal with Soop to get their son, Juber (Patrick Dillon Curry), a college scholarship. Desperate to escape his mill job, Juber bows to pressure from Soop, handing over the names of those who have signed up to join the union – a betrayal with cataclysmic consequences.
Forrester tends to layer on the play’s folkloric elements with a trowel, and director Max Montel favors an “aw shucks” approach to his actors’ Southern characterizations that occasionally borders on the condescending. Also, while conceptually intriguing, certain special “effects,” reminiscent of Indonesian shadow puppets, need some smoothing out. However, such blemishes don’t detract from the overall impact of this promising new play, or from the lively actors who bring it to fruition. The cast also includes Nick Marcucci, Chelsea Vincent and Amanda Jane Cooper, all fine.
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“Linthead,” Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 3. $17. (323) 960-7745. linthead.tumblr.com/tickets. Running time: 2 hours.