This past weekend, Marj and I took an impulsive trip to the north country and paid a visit to one of my old high school cronies, George Woodard, and his partner Gerianne Smart. The immmediate attraction was catching a Saturday night performance of George's semi-annual Ground Hog Opry musical comedy stage show, which was (literally) a hoot and a half and grand, great fun. An unabashed musical celebration of cornball comedy circa redneck country chestnuts like The Grand Old Opry, The Andy Griffith Show (George's Opry was, in fact, inspired by the hillbilly musician family that popped up on occasion on Andy Griffith's long-running TV series), Hee-Haw, etc., though the randy The Ground Hog Opry boasts a streak of blue humor (tastefully done) and 'blue state' political content (as such an equal-opportunity offender, scoring bulls-eyes against President 'Tush' and his cronies as well as VT's own Howard Dean, savaged in one skit for his historic campaign-trail 'scream') its wellsprings skirted or would have actively reviled. The most hilarious barbs came from Opry 'co-host' "Neal Down" (Al Boright), tag-teaming with "Roland Uphill" (George) to keep the whole evening rolling along in high, spry spirits and style.
George has been touring every year or two with the Ground Hog Opry since 1991, and this was the first Opry since 2003 to tour the upper communities of George's (and my own) home state. It's clearly a beloved institution: the show we attended was sold out before the doors open, and there literally wasn't an empty seat in the house. Among the fruits of the Opry legacy is Vermont character actor Rusty DeWees's successful regional one-man stage show and video/DVD/merchandizing phenomenon The Logger, which Rusty launched as two skits in a past Opry. George doesn't do it alone: the Opry is clearly a collaborative venture, and this year's edition boasts vet VT performers Al Boright, Adam Boyce, Allen Church, John Drury, Ramona Godfrey, Jim Pitman and Marilyn Skoglund on stage, and Peter Bruce Wilder, Gerianne Smart, Sarah-Lee Tarrat and Jan Gendreau backstage or otherwise contributing.
The weekend's surprise bonuses were many: quality time with George, Gerianne and her daughter Grace, generous screenings of rough-edit sequences from George & Gerianne's (co-writers, George directing, Gerianne producing) in-progress debut feature film The Summer of Walter Hacks, which was spellbinding and quite marvelous (the current Opry show and tour was mounted primarily to earn needed post-production dollars, in part for expensive but necessary film clips from a classic Anthony Mann western and song rights for High Noon's famous theme song). George has always scored as an actor, musician, and performer -- from the heyday of our high school stage work (we played "Barnaby and Cornelius" in Harwood Union High School's production of Hello, Dolly waayyyy back in '72) to George's many screen roles (in Ethan Frome, Timechasers, My Mother's Early Lovers, Mud Season, Nothing Like Dreaming, The Mudge Boy, etc.) -- but I admit to being honestly floored by his storytelling skills and absolute grasp of all the cinematic essentials in the footage he shared with Marj and I. George had previously screened his first short film Whatever Happened to Baby... Bear? (2004) for me, and we enjoyed his second short Johnny, Get the Christmas Tree (2005) yesterday, but both were simple filmmaking (literally film student: George shot both years ago as a film student at Burlington College) exercises, slight confections at best. The quantum leap to The Summer of Walter Hacks is staggering, and George & Gerianne's debut feature promises to be something extraordinary. Marj and I are now almost as eager as George and Gerianne to see the finished film (nobody on planet Earth is more eager than George & Gerianne to see this movie done!).
There's still a lot of work to do -- insert shots to be filmed, weeks if not months of editing and post-production, etc. -- and it's amazing to know George has accomplished all this while keeping his family's dairy farm working, day in, day out (50 cows, 25 milking at the moment). In fact, the Ground Hog Opry program thanks "performance milkers" Randi Grout, Eythan Thurston and George's younger brother Steve Woodard (who is also Waterbury Center's local animal doctor, running a vet clinic on Loomis Hill), the folks who handled farm chores the evenings George has to be on stage. Even his busiest film acting schedule has required George and his family work around the daily farm chores -- a point Ethan Frome actress Katharine Houghton chuckled over when I interviewed her years ago for my ongoing Vermont film & filmmakers book projects.
George is quite a fellow, and it's inspiring and humbling to see him keeping his creative life so vital, so alive, all while shouldering a daily workload that would embitter or break most people.
We also took a spin up to my old haunts in Johnson, which gave Marj her first tour of the Johnson State College campus that was so central to my life (in 1974-76).
When I drove around to the parking lot below the Stearns dining hall and stopped to point out my old room in the subbasement of Governor's Hall -- the lowermost window facing the lower lot -- it was heartwarming to see whoever lives there now is a movie-freak, too: two one-sheet posters, one of which was the classic David Lynch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me one-sheet, were taped up in the window for all the world to see. It was mighty tempting to walk up the hill, up the zig-zap cement stairs, enter that lower dorm door and knock on my old Governor's 'Subhuman' door -- but the drapes were drawn, too, and I know when we were in that room with windows covered, we were usually doing something we wouldn't have wanted some complete stranger knocking on the door to intrude upon. So, we stayed put, finished our brief driving tour of the campus, and then headed down to the downtown diner (same one I used to eat at, sans the booths me and my cronies used to sit in) for a quick bite to eat before heading off to Hyde Park for the Ground Hog Opry.
Much more I could tell, but hey, it was a great weekend.
Hope yours was as sweet or sweeter still.
This from The Village Voice Feb. 24th article by Nat Hentoff (compliments of HomeyM) -- a reminder, if needed, of how we as a nation are treating, and have treated now for years sans arrest, due process, or access to legal representation, state-designated 'suspects' and 'detainees,' not convicted terrorists:
...Eight "detainees" now being held at Guantánamo, another extralegal U.S. prison, have told their attorneys what it was like when they were individually held, at various times between 2002 and 2004, in a secret U.S. facility for more than six weeks before being transferred to Guantánamo. That secret prison was apparently closed after the transfer. This is their story, as told in the HRW report:
"The detainees, who called the facility the 'dark prison' or 'prison of darkness,' said they were. . . shackled to rings bolted into the walls of their cells, deprived of food and drinking water. . . for days at a time . . . and kept in total darkness with load rap, heavy-metal music, or other sounds blaring for weeks at a time. . . . Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible for them to lie down or sleep."
Ethiopia-born Benyam Mohammed, who grew up in Britain, told his attorney, in English, "[At one point] I was chained to the rails [of my cell] for a fortnight. . . . The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. . . . Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."...
If ever an American wondered how "it happened here" with the Japanese interment camps during WW2, or to "oblivious" or complacent German citizens as the Third Reich rose to power, open your fucking eyes and ears. Don't fool yourself.
It's happening here.