Review: ‘Darlin’ Cory’ finalizes Alliance’s Appalachian trilogy

The Alliance Theatre's Appalachian folk musical "Darlin' Cory" features Rhyn McLemore (left) and Gillian Rabin.

Courtesy of Greg Mooney

The Alliance Theatre's Appalachian folk musical "Darlin' Cory" features Rhyn McLemore (left) and Gillian Rabin. Courtesy of Greg Mooney

For all of the mystical elements running through the Alliance Theatre’s Appalachian folk musical “Darlin’ Cory” — which is to say deliberately and by design — the most inadvertent of them is a highly disappointing sense of déjà vu.

A collaboration between prolific Atlanta playwright and novelist Phillip DePoy and country-music composer Kristian Bush (of Sugarland fame), the new show completes a thematic trilogy that began with the Alliance’s intimate 2015 Hertz studio staging of DePoy’s hypnotic “Edward Foote,” and continued with the company’s 2016 Teen Ensemble undertaking of his “Foxglove”.

At the helm this time around is Alliance artistic director Susan Booth, whose decision to mount the final installment of the series on the Coca-Cola main stage is replete with sprawling, overblown production values. Various pieces of Broadway scenic designer Todd Rosenthal’s set lower from the rafters, or emerge from the floor of the stage, or slide into place from the wings (often requiring cast members to serve double-duty as stagehands).

Jeremy Aggers (center) leads the cast of "Darlin' Cory," an Appalachian folk musical continuing through Oct. 3 at the Alliance Theatre.

Courtesy of Greg Mooney

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While “Edward Foote” quite effectively incorporated several traditional Sacred Harp, or “shape-note,” standards into its storyline, “Darlin’ Cory” is very much a more run-of-the-mill bit of musical theater, under the musical direction of Brandon Bush (Kristian’s brother), who fronts a three-piece band that also features Tomi Martin on guitar and Q Robinson on drums.

In one scene, for instance, a controlling village preacher admonishes his nubile daughter for sitting and talking with a prospective suitor in the town square, whereupon he leads several of his parishioners in a hokey song-and-dance routine (“The Way It Is”), barely minding it when even his virtuous daughter joins in such an “unseemly” public display.

Pastor Bailey is portrayed by the estimable Jeremy Aggers, the only returning actor from the original cast of “Edward Foote,” where he played another, apparently unrelated fire-and-brimstone minister named Reece. In both plays, the recurring narrative conflict involves remote Depression-era Appalachian communities that are rocked by the arrival of a stranger who threatens to expose deep, dark secrets about one or more of the local yokels.

Rob Lawhon (left) and Jeremy Aggers appear in the Alliance Theatre's "Darlin' Cory," an Appalachian folk musical.

Courtesy of Greg Mooney

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Among the characters here: Mama Grace (Rhyn McLemore), a free-thinking single mother, and her like-minded foundling of a daughter, Clara (Gillian Rabin); Pastor Bailey’s long-suffering wife, the awkwardly named Truegood (Katie Deal), and their more aptly named daughter, Honor (Asia Rogers); Honor’s dubious admirer, Brody (John Bobek), her flighty best friend, Ivy (Kelli Dodd), and their nondescript pal, Gaither (Jimez Alexander); Doug (Rob Lawhon), a moonshine-swilling hermit with a questionable past; and the kindly general storekeeper and bootlegger Tucker (Marcello Audino).

And that’s not even mentioning Jewl Carney and Maria Rodriguez-Sager as the Crow sisters, Alex and Cass, a pair of indigenous Native American spiritualists who represent a Greek chorus of sorts, observing and guiding a lot of the action from a distance. Or the second-act arrival of the titular Cory, about whom the less said the better in terms of not spoiling any plot twists.

"Darlin' Cory," an Appalachian folk musical at the Alliance Theatre, co-stars Jewl Carney (left) and Maria Rodriguez-Sager.

Courtesy of Greg Mooney

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Song highlights include Carney and Rodriguez-Sager’s “Misty Mountain,” Dodd’s “Prayer of No Words,” Audino’s “Time to Be a Man,” Rogers’ “Anybody Like You,” and McLemore’s “After the Ashes.”

Subtlety has never been DePoy’s strong suit. His “Darlin’ Cory” script lays things on rather heavily — imposing modern views or sensibilities about feminism and gender issues into an improbable period setting, and then enabling the story to culminate in a contrived climax of violence and special effects.

That it is no “Edward Foote,” ultimately, either bears repeating, or goes without saying.


“Darlin’ Cory”

Through Oct. 3. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. $25-$78. Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000.

Bottom line: Bigger isn’t necessarily better.