Note: Apologies. WordPress decided to publish the very rough first draft of this review instead of the complete one I (thought) posted last night. Hence the double posting. Sadly, this one isn’t as detailed as the original complete review, due to time constraints.
Garret Mathews (Carmel, Indiana) took a subject most people find insane — snake handling — and crafted a funny and thoughtful piece of theater from it.
Mathews has seen this phenomenon first-hand, having written a column about it (and many other subjects) for Evansville’s Courier & Press before his retirement from the journalism world. His main character in the play, Cindy, is based on one of his interviews.
Snake handling is a rare subculture within the Pentecostal church and is most often found in rural areas in the South. The practice stems from a verse in Mark 16: “They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
You have to admit: tempting deadly snakes and drinking poison certainly take faith.
They Shall Take Up Serpents is set in Jolo, West Virginia, outside the Church of the Lord Jesus. Cindy (Hannah Jo Black), a new congregant, is a young woman deprived of power — her domineering father (Thom Johnson) bleeds her dry, saying she owes him for his financial investment in her. His demeaning verbal abuse over the years has turned her inside out, siphoning off all her perceived worth. But for the past eight weeks, Cindy has made the two-hour drive to Jolo to attend the services of a snake-handling church. Now, she is on the cusp of stepping up and taking her turn with the rattlers and, in effect, taking back her personal power.
Black plays the painfully introverted Cindy with a demure voice and restless hands. Cindy continuously tries to bury herself farther into her sweater, almost subconsciously trying to hide herself or protect herself from the world. In contrast to Cindy’s character, Maryanne Mathews plays the lively if eccentric one-eyed Velma, a life-long member and matriarch of the church. Velma’s character is bizarrely entertaining. If the show had scenery, I would say Mathews chews on it. Velma is country through and through, and she exudes the love for life and faith that is sorely lacking in Cindy’s world. Velma’s fun-loving, unfiltered, and infectious nature is what helps Cindy finally decide to take that step and come into her own.
The two are intruded upon by a bumbling young journalist, Ran (Kyle James Dorsch). Dorsch is a cute and gawky Ran, and Velma gets to poke some fun at him, eliciting a smile and eventually a laugh from Cindy. But his sudden and passionate concern for Cindy’s potential future is too abrupt, making that scenario unrealistic.
Overall, Garret Mathews manages to show us the growth of Cindy from withering wallflower to blooming self-confidence within 50 minutes. That is certainly an impressive feat.
- Saturday, Aug. 18, 9 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 19, 4:30 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 24, 6 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 25, 1:30 p.m.
- Firefighters Union Hall, first floor