July 20 2011 12:00 AM

Splendid acting and wonderful script make this comedy a must-see


It was the kind of opening night you couldn’t buy for a
million dollars: a full moon, a sold-out house, the world premiere of a
lovely new play and a standing ovation. 

On top of all that, there was something else. A special
feeling in the air. That feeling of belonging, of excitement and
expectation that audiences can sometimes get as they sink into their

It was there opening night. And Williamston Theatre
responded by delivering a production of “And the Creek Don’t Rise” that
went down as smoothly and effortlessly as a Southern Comfort Manhattan.

“Creek” tells the story of Rob and Maddie Graff, a Detroit
couple that have lost their jobs because of current hard economic
times.  They move to the small Georgia town of Carson, where they hope to start a new life.

When next-door neighbor, Dr. Benjamin “Doc” Boggs (“Bless
my soul, I’ve got me some genuine Yankees for neighbors!”) invites Rob
to join him in a Civil War re-enactment, a “small” accident and a string
of subsequent misunderstandings — some of them cultural — start a war
between the two men.

“Creek” is written by multi-award-winning
Michigan playwright Joseph Zettelmaier, whose plays have been done by
professional theaters throughout Michigan; “It Came From Mars” was
presented last season at Williamston.

His script brings together two strong actors, Thomas D. Mahard and John Lepard.  Mahard
has appeared in 100 professional productions during his 30 years in
Michigan, most of them at Meadow Brook Theatre. In the challenging role
of Doc, he brings all that past experience plus an unrelenting energy to
his characterization.

Williamston’s executive director Lepard embodies Rob as if the role were written just for him.  He is vulnerable, he is appealing, he is funny — as in, laugh-out-loud funny.  Of course, both men have been given some deliciously zany lines by Zettelmaier, and they make the most of them.

Even when the play gets to its more serious themes of
Doc’s hidden isolation and loneliness, or Rob’s doubts about himself,
the script never becomes heavy or maudlin, staying instead beautifully
simple and true. Thanks to the skillful direction of Joseph Albright,
the execution of the play is equally beautiful and true.

There was a scene on opening night in
which Mahard and Lepard are flinging particularly cutting (but
hilarious) insults at each other when suddenly they stop, stare at each
other for a split-second and then double over in spontaneous laughter.
Rather than being distracting, this was a charming and disarming moment. 

With all this going on, a lesser actress
than the equally professional Kate Peckham (as Rob’s peacemaking wife)
might have had a tough time surviving. Not Peckham: She created and sold
her “amazing and weird” Maddie with exuberant self-confidence.  

The production staff of set designer
Daniel C. Walker, lighting designer Reid G. Johnson, costumer Holly
Iler, sound designer Will Myers and stage manager Nan Luchini is
noticeably in top form. Their work — from the versatile set with its
painted bright blue and red accents to the costumes and Civil War
uniforms and the perfectly placed Dixie and bluegrass music — solidly
supports the mood and effect of the play. Particularly noteworthy are
the special lighting and sound effects in the important last scene,
played out against authentic-sounding 4th of July fireworks in the

‘And the Creek Don’t Rise’
Williamston Theatre
Through Aug. 14
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 3 p.m. Saturdays (except July 23), 3 p.m. July 21.
$24 Friday and Saturday evenings; $20 matinees; $18 Thursdays; $10 students; $2 off regular price for seniors
(517) 655-7469