A play by William Gregg and Perry Deane Young
July 29-August 9, 2009
at the historic Owens Theater, Mars Hill, N.C.
In fact, the author Thomas Wolfe returned to his native Asheville, N.C., in September 1929 just days before his locally-explosive novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was published in New York. He would visit all those who later felt he had betrayed and ridiculed them in his widely praised novel. And then he went back to New York City and never returned to his beloved home town and the people there until eight years had passed. A wildly passionate man, Wolfe was caught in a web of loyalties that first involved his devotion to his art. Next was his love of the great stage designer, Aline Bernstein And always hovering in his memory was his devoted but needy family back in Asheville.
When the school teacher who had molded him as an intellectual and a writer read what Wolfe had written about her husband, she wrote him: “You have devastated your own family but you have crucified mine.” His sister was shunned by the literary club she was desperate to belong to. His older brother threatened to sue because Wolfe said he had a piece of “tough suet” where his heart ought to be.
But the publication of Look Homeward, Angel coincided almost to the day with the stock market crash in 1929 and Wolfe’s family like everybody else in Asheville was truly devastated. Ironically, the success of the hated novel enabled Wolfe to lend his family money when they needed it most.
When Wolfe actually came home again in 1937, he stopped off in his mother’s ancestral homeland of mountain-bound Yancey County. He got off the bus and walked into a gunfight among some distant cousins. But, his welcome home in nearby Asheville was tumultuous. All the bad feelings had been forgotten and he was greeted like a returning sports hero. The peace and quiet he sought in a little cabin out from Asheville evaded him as hordes of visitors invaded his privacy to tell him their stories and party with the famous author.
Wolfe fled back to the haven New York City had always offered him and plunged himself into his work, writing nearly 2 million words in less than a year. Leaving a mountainous manuscript with his publisher, he headed west on an extended vacation trip. From Seattle, Wolfe wired his family that he was hospitalized with a mysterious illness which was later diagnosed as tuberculosis of the brain. His family as always came to his aid, first his sister and then his brother and then his mother helped get him back to Baltimore for treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The famous author died there, surrounded by his devoted family. They brought him home to a celebrity’s farewell funeral. He was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery among all those who once felt he betrayed them—and all their tombstones would eventually carry inscriptions from his writing. He was home again, home at last.
William Gregg and Perry Deane Young both grew up in Wolfe’s literary shadow in the Asheville suburb of Woodfin. This is their third play. SART previously produced their plays, Frankie, and Mountain of Hope. Prior to coming home to Mars Hill, Gregg served as director of the New American Theater in Illinois, the Theatre Virginia in Richmond, the New Raft Theatre Company in New York City and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. At the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, he worked as production stage manager and assistant director for artistic director Liviu Ciulei. In addition to the three plays, Young is the author of 10 books and one screenplay. A new edition of his Vietnam memoir, Two of the Missing, has just been published by Press 53. Millenium Films has announced that production of the film based on the book will begin in 2009.
The True Story of a Friend’s Betrayal that led
to a Tragic Death on Mount Mitchell
A PLAY BY
WILLIAM GREGG AND PERRY DEANE YOUNG
Mountain of Hope focuses on the real-life drama involving the life and death of the beloved UNC Professor, scientist and Presbyterian minister, Elisha Mitchell.
Until 1835, Mount Washington in New Hampshire was believed to be the highest mountain east of the Rocky Mountains. However, Mitchell went to Yancey County in that year and determined that the Black Mountain was higher. In 1855, Mitchell’s former student and close friend, Congressman Thomas L. Clingman, attempted to prove that his old professor had never actually reached the highest peak and managed to get the name “Mount Mitchell” changed to “Clingman’s Peak” on all the maps.
Outraged by Clingman’s betrayal, Mitchell in 1857 attempted to prove his original claim to the mountain—and fell to his death below a 40-foot waterfall on the side of the mountain. Hundreds of mountain men joined in the 11-day search for Mitchell’s body, which was finally found by a party led by the legendary Big Tom Wilson. The equally legendary Zeb Vance (later our Civil War Governor) was also among the searchers and devoted the next year to discrediting Clingman’s claims, proving his former professor was right, and by the way, getting himself elected to Clingman’s seat in Congress. The play will include an epilogue about how the thick virgin balsam groves on the mountain were clear cut and burned by lumbermen between 1913-1918. This devastation led directly to the creation of Mount Mitchell State Park, the first state park in the southeast.
Read more about the play:
REVIEWS OF THE PLAY, FRANKIE
Mountain Xpress: “Frankie is the story of a woman who fought back—and learned that justice only applies to those with the right to speak….though this is a historical play, it was clearly written for modern sensibilities…Ultimately, Frankie wins its attempt to give the title character her day in court. In clearing up the misconceptions produced by countless retellins of this story, the play provides proof of Frankie’s innocence of premeditated murder. History buffs will appreciate the depth of research involved.”
Lana Whited, professor of English at Ferrum College, on her website “Frankie Silver Resources” - “Frankie is an important play which raises enduring questions about family and domestic relationships, social class, and violence, including the death penalty. It deserves a wide audience, and I hope that Frankie’s life on stage will exceed her all-too-brief real life.”
Links to further information on Frankie Silver:
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