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Tobacco Road

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TOBACCO ROAD, Pillar Studio, at the Organic Theatre Company Greenhouse. In its day, the early 1930s, this play about the trashiest of white trash and the Erskine Caldwell novel on which it was based stirred up a peck of trouble. The critics hated it--one called it "repulsive and . . . faintly sickening"--and its frankness about sex, adultery, and incest earned it a storm of Karen Finley-style controversy wherever it toured. Naturally everyone wanted to see it, and it made lots of money.

Three generations later, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about. The sexual material is tame compared to daytime TV. The incest alluded to in the play isn't even between blood relations--it's only a case of a sex-starved girl lusting after her sister's husband. (Hmmm, didn't I see that on Jenny Jones a few months ago?) While playwright Jack Kirkland's (and Caldwell's) observations of life among the dull and shiftless sharecropper set were once, I suppose, original and pointed, they seem tired after The Beverly Hillbillies, those god-awful Ma and Pa Kettle movies, and L'il Abner (the cartoon, the musical, and the movie).

It's baffling why the folks at Pillar Studio would pour so many fine performances into such a weak vessel. Given the flattest of social stereotypes--the lazy pappy, the grouchy mammy, the dumber'n a post son--this seasoned cast of non-Equity regulars, including one member of the Dogs (Paul White) and two actors from New Crime Productions (Lawrence Grimm and Andrew Micheli), manage to spin out living, breathing, compelling performances. Damn shame the exhausted script, like the land the protagonists try to farm, can't support them.

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