Cry Hallelujah at ‘Smoke on the Mountain’

We are all junebugs in this life, hitting screen doors and drowning in the refreshments.

By Eric George Tauber

Eric George Tauber

SAN DIEGO — Follow a lonely country road –past a pickle factory- and you’ll come to Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. Brian Mackey, as the Bible toting Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe, greets us with welcoming smiles and warm handshakes. But it’s not Sunday morning. Tonight is the “Saturday Night Sing” featuring the Sanders Family of Bluegrass-Gospel Singers. They croon together in heavenly harmonies accompanied by piano, guitars, a banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, harmonica, a cowbell and even percussive spoons and coconut shells.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth hysterically hams it up as the righteous mama, Vera. She and the preacher get a little competitive with their quotations of Bible verses. And Katie Sapper is delightfully earnest as the elder daughter, June. She doesn’t sing. She signs… even without a single deaf person in the house.

These are old-school Southern Baptists, easily scandalized by anything “worldly” such as the sale of beer, salty language and –G-d forbid- dancing. But unlike the Orthodox, they’re fine with the sound of women singing and the sight of their elbows. Annie Buckley shines as the blossoming teenage daughter, Denise. Growing up in such a family, she knows how to be a good girl, but grins deliciously at the confessed memory of being just a little bad.

As the only son, Dennis is expected to become a preacher. But his painfully stiff attempt at preaching is so awkward I felt badly for laughing at him. Carrying too many instruments at one time, Beau Brians treats us to some physical comedy worthy of Mr. Bean.

From the moment I saw Steve Gouveia as Uncle Stan Sanders, I knew that he had an interesting back-story. He’s visibly uncomfortable being inside a church and making eye contact. Yet as an ex-con who’s worked on a chain gang, he truly knows what redemption is. To his credit, his pious brother Burl embraces him with genuine compassion rather than harsh judgment.

Smoke on the Mountain is a fun, campy, toe-tapping yee-haw with humor and heart that will have you clapping along and crying, Halelujah! And if you feel like their world is too many miles away from your own, just remember that the sacred Scriptures from which they prolifically quote were Jewish long before Christianity ever came on the scene.
Tauber is a freelance writer specializing in coverage of the arts. He may be contacted via [email protected]







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