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THEATER REVIEW

Theater review: Players, sets on Attic Productions stage bring 'Mitford' to life

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Mitford pic

Mitford’s Main Street Diner proprietors Percy and Velma, portrayed by James Honaker and Wendy Claunch (standing) prepare to serve regular customers, from left, Mule (Steve Aaron), Father Tim (Bill Joppich) and JC Hogan (Gene Marrano). “Welcome to Mitford” continues this weekend at Attic Productions, Fincastle.

A busy calendar of live theater continues this month with Attic Productions’ presentation of “Welcome to Mitford,” which on Thursday began its second of two weekend runs.

The show is based on novelist Jan Karon’s widely beloved Mitford series, particularly her 1994 debut, “At Home in Mitford.”

Described as one of the most popular shows ever to hit the Attic stage, “Welcome to Mitford” was intended to open in March 2020 — one of several revivals slated for the troupe’s 25th anniversary season. But then came COVID.

As director Wyatt Ewell explained in his welcoming remarks to the audience at the Dec. 5 matinee, the theater fell silent — and the set pieces gathered dust — for 16 months until life slowly returned to something more closely resembling normal.

It’s a backstory befitting the spirit of Mitford, where the days unfold both bitter and sweet, and the townspeople make their way along through grace and faith.

In “Welcome to Mitford,” Father Tim Kavanaugh leads an Episcopal congregation in a small North Carolina mountain town. Approaching 60, he grapples with how to support his church, with keeping his parishioners looked after, and with being less-than-happily single.

More than two dozen supporting characters take part in the events that unfold during the course of the show, which is told in a series of brief vignettes that weave themselves together to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Although the story deals with some serious matters, there is plenty of humor along the way. The early scenes establish the rhythm of town life, as the church staff tries to keep body and soul together, and the menfolk gather at the local diner to discuss topics such as whether gizzards would be a good addition to the menu.

Various locals begin to figure prominently in Father Tim’s orbit, including the wealthy town matriarch Sadie Baxter, a wayward boy named Dooley Barlowe, and the children’s book author Cynthia Coppersmith, who has just moved into the house next to the parsonage.

As Father Tim, Bill Joppich is in almost every minute of the play, and he carries the ensemble with an able and steady presence and an engaging personality. Two lovely scenes where he is presiding over church services might just have you feeling you’re really there.

In fact, many scenes likely will have the audience nodding in recognition, whether it’s getting a lecture from your family doctor, navigating a new relationship, or just hearing a friend like Uncle Billy tell a good joke.

There is no room to give due credit to every cast member. Suffice it to say that all the key roles are well-played, and the actors who appear briefly bring a nice energy to the production. Kudos as well to the production crew, which has done a good job creating a lot of town within the stage confines.

One name bears mention for a different reason: James Honaker. He directed “Welcome to Mitford” when it was first produced at Attic Productions in March 2012, and was planning to direct it again for the 2020 anniversary. But even before COVID, life forced a change and director Ewell stepped in. Now as the show finally goes on, Honaker is again part of the team, this time as the diner owner Percy Mosley, and his comic presence is a wonderful addition.

In his program notes, Ewell writes: “‘Welcome to Mitford’ is a play about giving thanks.”

It’s also about community — Mitford’s, and ours.

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