Woody Guthrie is Still Singin’

By John Farrell

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is over for a year and no one could see everything.

But there were moments, and the best, from our point of view, was Hard Travelin’ with Woody Guthrie, a one-man show written and directed by Randy Noojin that was intimate, as simple as the music of American icon Guthrie and a moving tribute to his vital concern with the American working man, a concern that was built during the Dust Bowl, 80 years before the erstwhile revolution of the 99 percent.

The play is set in the UMW Local 92 Union Hall in Oklahoma in about 1932, with projections of drawings by Guthrie and photographs of the dust bowl and union activities of the time. Noojin is Woody Guthrie incarnate. He wears his dusty and worn clothes, his trademark hat, a knapsack that holds his canteen and more than a few harmonicas, which he plays while strumming tunes on his guitar and telling tales from his early life. Some of his early life was spent on the road to California, on trains and even in jail.

Guthrie wrote many songs, from the iconic “This Land is Your Land” to “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You,” and Noojin plays 15 of them with relish and without a hitch — you believe he wrote every note and suffered every indignity. But, as Guthrie’s autobiography revealed, he had an up-beat spirit. He believed in America and Americans, and even if he might have been a communist (he was a socialist, and that is sometimes considered by some as just as bad) he was on the side of the downtrodden, and his ethos — nearly 80 years later — still makes a lot of sense.

But whether you agree with the outspoken man Guthrie was, you cannot help but love his music, and Noojin’s way of singing that music. From “Mailin’ Myself to You” to “This Train is Bound for Glory,” Noojin sings with a clear, clean, folksy voice, playing his guitar with a deft skill and playing those harmonicas at the same time, captivating and charming everyone, and getting his audience to sing along as well.

Noojin and Caite Hevner designed the projections, which make the show more than just music. You get an idea of the world Guthrie grew up in and the great problems of the Great Depression. It was a quiet but revealing hour.

 

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