You might think that with the current racial tensions in this country, The Contemporary Youth Arts Company was motivated to revive their original play, “HOODS,” a drama about the turning tide of race relations in the Appalachian foothills in the 1950s by politics, but you’d be wrong.
“Politics had nothing to do with our decision to revisit this play,” says playwright and director, Dan Kehde. “There are two reasons I wanted to do ‘HOODS’ again. First, it needed to be rewritten and I had time and wanted to do it right. Also, I saw that I had the cast for it, and felt that I could pull it off the way I wanted to.”
Opening Thursday night and running through next week, “HOODS” is set in October 1957 and tells the story of Joe Stampers, the patriarch of a family that winds up in the middle of a racial incident. Stampers is one of “them,” a euphemism for the KKK, who are never mentioned by name during the play, but you will see their trademark robes.
Stampers, goaded into action by fellow Klansman Max Withrow, is set on “teaching a lesson” to Joe Tabor, the local high school’s lone negro student, and a star on the football team.
As the tensions escalate and the seriousness of the situation increases due to the involvement of Stamper’s children, we see a moment of change, as Stampers reflects on his heritage and his future as he makes a fateful decision.
The play is powerful, and relevant, but Kehde is not joking when he talks about having a “dream cast.” Over the last few seasons, CYAC has been experiencing what might be considered a “golden age,” with a large crew of very talented performers passing through their ranks. With “HOODS” Kehde may have his strongest cast yet, with not a weak link among them.
At a rehearsal earlier this week, the cast was dead perfect in their roles. Nik Tidquist stars as Joe Stampers, and continues to grow and impress as an actor. I first saw Nik in “Jack The Ripper” a couple of years ago, and since then I’ve been continually impressed by his work, from musicals to broad comedy to his starring role in Bertholt Brecht’s “Gallieo.”
While Tidquist carries the bulk of the play on his shoulders, he is surrounded by a collection of Charleston’s finest young actors.
Kym Waybright, as his daughter, Agnes and Anna Poole as Stampers’ wife, Beth Ann, turn in astounding performances, mastering the rural West Virginia accents and bringing these characters to life. Waybright is playing a character younger than herself, while Poole plays someone more than twice her age. Both actresses are eminently believable.
Waybright has quickly established herself as one of the most versatile actresses in town, appearing in everything from “Flaming Guns Of The Purple Sage” to “The Moment Of Greatest Happiness.” Poole was very impressive earlier this year in Flare Baroshi’s short film, “Prison Of The Mind.”
Donnie Smith displays his versatility once more on the CYAC stage as Max Withrow, the ring leader of the local Klan. Smith has shown that he can also handle anything from musicals to comedy to being a total heel. Nick Foster is terrific as Joe Stamper’s son, JJ, who plays a key role in his father’s decision.
The cast is rounded out by Mandy Harper, Austin Thomas, Craig Auge and Jaclyn Cobb, all of them CYAC veterans who shine in their respective roles.
“HOODS” showcases some of the area’s most gifted actors in a stirring drama that is gut-wrenchingly realistic in its portrayal of the changing state of race relations in the late 1950s. True to the era, there is some racially-charged language in the play. Though a work of fiction, Kehde’s painstaking research makes this seem like a completely real incident.
The play’s description, from the CYAC website:
“In October 1957 in a small West Virginia town in the Appalachian foothills Joe Stampers raised his family in the same house, on the same land as his father and grandfather before him. The family business, Stampers Garage, was begun after the Civil War as the only blacksmith in the county. His grandfather had fought for the South beside that of his wife, Beth Ann, and she and Joe had fought their own battles to give their son and twin daughters the same values and morals as they and their parents and grandparents had before them.
Only times were changing. Just the year before President Eisenhower had sent troops to desegregate the Little Rock public schools, and now there were Negroes sitting beside Joe Jr. and the twins in the local high school. One Negro boy, Joe Tabor, was even playing football for the team.
So the men were taking to the back roads at night, enforcing the age old racist values with fear. When Joe’s daughter Agnes falls in love with Joe Tabor, what was once a decades-old prejudice became outright hatred, and what was fearful violence was about
to become outright murder.
HOODS tells the story of a family struggling with the decision between that which was morally right and that which had been taught them as right for generations.
The hard hitting drama builds to a chilling climax as Joe is faced with a decision that would change his family forever.”
Joe Stampers…Niklaus Tidquist
Beth Ann Stampers…Anna Poole
Agnes Stampers…Kim Waybright
Martha Stampers…Mandy Harper
Joe Stampers Jr…Nick Foster
Max Withrow…Donald Smith Jr.
Coach Phillips…Craig Auge
Dave Mosby…Austin Thomas
Mary Alice Whittington…Jaclyn Cobb
IF YOU GO: “HOODS” presented by The Contemporary Youth Arts Company, will be performed September 23,24,25 and 30 and October 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. At The WVSU Capital Center Theater, 123 Summers Street in Charleston. Tickets are $5.50 for students, $9.50 for adults.