Center Rep celebrates Guthrie with ‘Woody Sez’

When the name Woody Guthrie comes up, people most likely associate him with his most popular song, “This Land Is Your Land,” and perhaps his son Arlo Guthrie.

However, he was much more than that, as shown in “Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,” presented by Center Repertory Company.

This four-person musical biography with its dozens of songs looks at the many tragedies in his life and the destitute circumstances that led to giving voice to his activism through his music.

Some people at the time considered him a radical, especially given his allegiance to communism, but he had witnessed firsthand the despair of people during the Depression and the Dust Bowl days.

Born in Oklahoma in 1912, he lost homes and his sister because of fires. It’s gradually implied that they were set by his mother, who died of debilitating Huntington’s disease when he was 14.

Before long, he was a wanderer, finding work wherever he could and singing his songs. One of the most vivid scenes in the show, joined with “Talkin’ Dust Bowl” and “Dust Storm Disaster,” culminates in the unprecedented April 1935 dust storm that caused him to join thousands of other Oklahomans on the arduous trek to California.

This is shortly followed by the desperation of hundreds of migrants awaiting the chance to pick fruit while the company store granted them credit that took away their cars and other belongings.

Much more transpires throughout his life with three marriages, the deaths of some of his eight children and his own death from Huntington’s in 1967.

This show was devised by music director David M. Lutken with director Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell and Andy Teirstein.

Lutken takes on the role of Guthrie while Deaville, Megan Loomis and David Finch assume many others. These multi-talented musicians play an array of acoustic instruments such as guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo, harmonica and even spoons.

As Lutken noted during the curtain call, this troupe has been performing the show off and on since 2007, but this is its first stop in California.

Running about two hours with one intermission, the entertaining, informative, energetic “Woody Sez” will continue through June 23 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.

Sunday matinees will be followed by free hootenannies.

For tickets and more information, call (925) 943-7469 or visit www.centerrep.org.

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →