The Theater of the American South’s presentation of Concord, Virginia, written and performed by Peter Neofotis, is a splendid piece of storytelling, featuring “The Heiress” and “The Ancients,” two of the 11 remarkable Southern Gothic stories about his rural hometown in Campbell County in south central Virginia, not too far from the North Carolina border. Proving once and for all that you can go home again and even dish some delicious dirt about the town’s most notorious citizens, Neofotis won the 2007 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella for Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories.
Having previously been described as “the seeming lovechild of Truman Capote and Eudora Welty,” the diminutive squeaky-voiced father of the nonfiction novel and one of the most formidable grand dames of Southern literature, Peter Neofotis is definitely a different type of raconteur. Boyish, well groomed, a bit effete, he nevertheless possesses a gimlet eye for human foibles and a facility for waxing poetic even when the subject matter is sordid. Moreover, Neofotis limns the unforgettable characters of his stories so vividly that they truly live and breathe on the page and in his uproarious recital of their misadventures.
In “The Heiress,” well-endowed equestrienne Betty Joe Lee deButt Carlisle becomes the Paris Hilton of Concord by shooting her miserable old one-handed penny-pinching father, William Carlisle, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s rifle — and the local powers that be rule that Concord’s richest citizen died by accident. Her motive: years before William Carlisle “accidentally” shot her mother to death and, most recently, he had cruelly executed her ailing jumper, Snail Shadow, out of pure meanness rather than foot the modest bill to transport him to the local veterinarian.
“The Ancients” is a darkly comic story about Old Lady (Elise) MacJenkins, Concord’s oldest citizen, her fierce pack of giant-sized dogs, and her beloved 150-foot-tall walnut tree, which she named Methuselah. When the power company and local government officials decided to dam the Fork River at Concord Pass and flooded her home place, MacJenkins and her aged and similarly dispossessed friend Alistair MacGregor put up a heroic resistance, a last stand truly worthy to be compared to the other great last stands of American history on the outskirts of the town of San Antonio and on the plains of Montana. “The Ancients” is a knee-slapping story that ends with a lump-in-the-throat moment and, like “The Heiress,” Peter Neofotis keeps a rapt audience sitting on the edges of their seats throughout the telling of this tangled tale.
Consulting director Lila Neugebauer has done a fine job of helping Neofotis shape his material into bite-size nuggets that the audience can easily digest. She also helps him craft a charming onstage persona and deliver his revelations about the frailties of his fellow citizens of Concord with warmth and wit and great affection.
It’s a rare treat to hear an author recite, from memory, chapters from his own prize-winning book. But Concord, Virginia leaves its audience hoping that Neofotis will return to the Wilson County seat to regale his new legion of fans with another chapter or two.
Concord, Virginia will resume its three-week run on May 20, 22, 23, and 28-30 in the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre at Barton College in Wilson, NC. See the CVNC theater calendar for details.