Pastor Oglethorpe (Matt Scott) walks something of a narrow bridge when he hosts a six-piece gospel band in SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN, one Saturday night in 1938. In this Appalachian church, where electric lights have only recently been installed, there's some grumbling in the amen corner at the sight of an upright bass, a fiddle and an accordion in the pulpit.
Connie Ray's book is mostly a collection of down-home country hymns that are sidetracked by intra-family skirmishes. Matriarch Vera (Libby McNeill Seymour) locks horns with the pastor in an endless match of can-you-top-that-scripture-quote, while father Burl (a bewildered Mike Rice) rides herd on squabbling siblings. Younger brother Dennis (Andrew Crowe), Denise (Jennie Malone) and June (a winning Greta Zandstra). Zandstra steals scenes when June's free-range interpretations for the deaf repeatedly veer into modern dance.
Inevitably, confessions and contrition burst forth in this sentimental comedy, confrontations that ultimately reinforce family and faith.
Still, under Mike Craver's musical direction, a gifted sextet playing everything from autoharp to an empty Quaker Oats box is mighty tight on this tour through the old-time gospel songbook. And Peggy Taphorn's direction finds gravitas where it's needed, as in a moving second act monologue by Ken Griggs, while taking the steam out of a couple of stuffed shirts elsewhere. Sam Beckett it ain't—but my toes are still tapping.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ancient forms."