Salt of the Earth

 

By John Godberka-tet theatre

Directed by Thomas Murray

Produced by Ka-Tet Theatre Company

At City Lit Theatre, Chicago

Thick Yorkshire accents muddle coal town family drama

Sometimes, in the interest of authenticity, a director outsmarts himself by striving for a pure accent that, together with his actors speaking too fast thus running their words together, makes much of the dialogue unintelligible. That ruined the promising English coal mining family drama.  Too much of the dialogue and much of the humor was lost in the muddled, heavily accented speak. Better to hint at an accent rather than having so much of the dialogue lost through fast-talking actors bent on sporting a thick Yorkshire accent. My inability to understand much of the spoken words rendered John Godber’s Salt of the Earth a tedious theatrical experience. Upon leaving the theatre, an audience member asked me: “Could understated the actors? I couldn’t because they spoke too fast with that awful accent.” I agreed with him.

ka-tet theatre

That wasn’t my only problem with director Thomas Murray’s production. The tone shifted from family drama to over-the-top comedy and back again to drama and so forth. The humor got silly at times. This tone shift wasn’t needed.

Salt of the Earth is a 1988 play about the English towns of Upton and South Kirby in Yorkshire from 1947-1988.  It covers two sisters both married to coal miners. Annie (Suzanne Miller) marries Roy (Joshua Katzker) who is bent on leaving mining for a better job. May (Kathryn Bartholomew) marries Harry (Rob Glidden) a confirmed lifetime miner. May and Harry communicate by  arguing and bickering. Harry does nothing except work in the mines; May is a compulsive house cleaner and chronic complainer. Roy and Annie have no children.

When Roy is killed in a mine cave-in, Annie becomes a lifetime widow and semi-recluse. In 1960, Paul is born to May and Harry. Much of the storyline concerns the generational differences between Paul and his conservative parents. May comes off as a controlling, dominant and inflexible mother bent on making sure her son gets a “proper” education yet she resists what education does to Paul’s view of life.  As Paul grows up in a constant bickering household, he learns to first hide his thoughts then he joins the battle with his parents. Paul’s friend Tosh (Dan Meisner) represents the revolting generation through several over-played comic scenes.

Unfortunately, the fast speech patterns with the thick Yorkshire accent, made for much of the humor and much of the poignant moments getting lost through the garbled speech. It is hard enough to grasp the local English idioms but when you can’t understated most of the talk- you fail to empathize with the players. May comes of as a nagging shrew, Harry as a shallow man and Paul becomes the only sympathetic one. Annie and Tosh so often over play their scenes that they seemed like cartoon characters.

I believe that Salt of the Earth could be a heartwarming saga but as now played, the garbled, too-fast speech patterns and the severe tone shifts keep it from being enjoyable. Kevin Lambert and Kathryn Bartholomew were particularly excellent. If they would drop the heavy accents and slow down their speech to articulate and enunciate the dialogue,  then Salt of the Earth could be a worthy production. Ka-Tet Theatre Company  usually does better work so we can forgive them for this show.

Not  Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: July 14, 2012

For more info checkout the Salt of the Earth page at theatreinchicago.com