Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Twelve years in the making, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" couples John Mellencamp’s specific sound with Stephen King’s ability to terrify. This unique collaboration centers around a small Southern town, a family, and a secret.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" raises questions surrounding the history of "place," the complicated and often dormant enmities hidden amongst family, and the past’s familiar influence on the present.
When young Joe McCandless witnesses a family tragedy that composes the stuff of local legend, his life becomes burdened with the weight of a truth left unspoken. Forty years after the infamous death of his brothers in their Lake Belle Reve, Mississippi cabin in 1967, Joe McCandless finds his own sons grappling with the same sense of disconnection, an animosity that simmers throughout the play.
The rivalry between his sons, Drake and Frank, reflects Joe’s own history, a sort of deja vu as Joe and the cast of ghosts that haunts the family’s cabin watch history repeat itself.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" emphasizes the effects of "place" on the lives of its characters, and the play itself was very purposefully situated in Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, premiering this powerhouse of a production in early April and running through May 13. Stephen King’s novels often revolve around decidedly tiny towns, in which local history is embedded in the landscape; similarly, John Mellencamp’s music focuses on the experiences of small town life.
Atlanta’s ability to chameleon itself, to move fluidly between the metropolitan and the rural, only adds to the production’s impact. John Mellencamp’s music is at once heartfelt and stirring, and with the addition of T Bone Burnett’s musical direction, the soundtrack skillfully underlines the emotional currents of the story without the smallest element of camp.
As Joe McCandless, Tony award-winning Shuler Hensley convincingly embodies a man tortured by a violent past. The cast is studded with incredible vocal talent, from the lilting Southern twang of Kate Ferber as the long-dead Jenna, to the soulful Christopher L. Morgan as fellow ghost Dan Coker, and American Idol alum Justin Guarini as Drake McCandless.
The play also explores Biblical elements throughout, a motif introduced in the first scene, a musical number performed by none other than the devil himself, a malevolent character named only The Shape (played by Jake La Botz).
Sprinkled throughout the production are references to Genesis’ tale of Cain and Abel, weighting the play with a heavy sense of memory. "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" lends a significance to past events on multiple levels: the personal history of a family, the haunted history of a small town, and the ever-present history of humankind itself.
The play suggests the omniscience of violence, as if it is a code written into our very blood, a prescription for horror that we as a species cannot shake, tainted in a way that is akin to the curse God imparted on Cain.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" at the Alliance Theatre recognizes that this penchant for destruction infiltrates our lives in a pervasive manner, and is athletic in its ability to track us down, one way or another.