I was raised in Mooresville, North Carolina, aka “Race City, USA,” so when I heard that Triad Stage was going to show Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s “White Lightning” I was curious to see how the theatre would represent this aspect of Southern culture. My family grew up fixing cars and going to NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But I hated the races. I hated NASCAR. I hated Race City, USA. I hated the roaring noise and the sport’s mostly obnoxious fan-base, and like most of my friends, I didn’t care for Mooresville and got out of there as soon as I could. But after watching Triad Stage’s performance of the play, it conjured nostalgic feelings I never thought I would have. All of a sudden, I missed the smell of motor oil, the thrill of racing, the twang of Southern accents and the small town where I grew up. “White Lightning” is set in the late ‘40s, and follows Avery (David Bowen), a young WWII veteran who makes a quick buck by running moonshine while making a name for himself as a racer. After a brush with the law, Avery is faced with a choice that will change the course of his life. Will he choose the fast-lane full of crime and dirty money, or will he choose to follow his dream to become a respectable stock car racer? Although the play was set in Alabama (and was originally commissioned and produced for the 2016 Alabama Shakespeare Festival), the story resonated with me and my small North Carolina hometown. This production has a distinctly Southern voice that transcends state borders, and more importantly, a message that transcends all borders: follow your heart, and “to thine own self be true.”
Directed by Triad Stage’s associate artistic director Sarah Hankins and aided by her all-female creative team, the performance, direction, and set design was flawless. The actors were all amazing, as per usual with Triad Stage, and didn’t skip a beat. The two actors that got a standing ovation from me were Michael Tourek as Hank and Carroll Michael Johnson as Chester. Of course, all the actors in this production were phenomenal and more than deserving of applause, but those two really struck a chord with me. Their actions and reactions brought me more into the story. I felt terrified at the booming of Tourek’s voice when Hank was angry. But I was giggling while watching my partner try to decipher what Johnson was saying half the time through Chester’s thick Southern accent and good ol’ boy antics.
The set was simple and consisted of a big track of red-tinted “dirt” with a moveable metal car attached to it. The metal car was made to look like a hunk of junk in the play, but the artistry of its design looked like something one might see in a modern art museum. Above the set was a rectangle-shaped light fixture equipped, rightly so, with mason jars that lit up the stage. Below the set was bigger jars filled with pennies that glistened in the light. The moonshine-themed decor was noticeable, but not overdone; a little went a long way regarding the design of the set, which made the performance that much more alluring.
Opening nights at Triad Stage are like no other. After attending past shows such as “And Then There Were None,” “Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” and “The Passion of Teresa Rae King,” I never had the chance to experience Triad Stage on opening night. I was lucky enough to score seats on the floor, and that intimacy was my favorite part of the experience. Not giving too much away, but this production has an optimistic, yet somewhat mysterious conclusion. “White Lightning” is indeed a thrilling ride from start to finish.
Hurry up and catch “White Lightning” before it tears out of the Pyrle Theatre Feb. 6-10 and Feb. 12-17.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit the www.triadstage.org.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.