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Before we were ushered into the theater to see Go, Granny D! we spent some time in the presence of a sextet of grannies (“Call us a ‘Gaggle of Grannies.’”) who sang to us a number of old songs with new lyrics, each song relating how it is high time that the U.S. has election reform. These songs were particularly apt because Go, Grannie D! is the story, told in her own words, of Doris Haddock, Granny D, who walked across America in an effort to draw attention to the need for national election reform.
Grannie D began her trek across America on January 1, 1999 at the age of 93. Aided by her son, Jim, and a man named Blue who kept the minibus running, Granny D walked ten miles each day until, having walked clear across the country from L.A. to Washington, she met with several senators and congressmen in order to get a bill passed for election reform. Unfortunately for the nation, the bill was scuttled, but Granny D remains an icon for the Little Guy in the face of corporate greed and election buy-offs.
Barbara Bates Smith, who plays Granny D in this one-woman show, is known in North Carolina for her portrayal of “Ivy Rowe” from Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies. This show led to many others depicting stories by Lee Smith and other known authors in North Carolina, including Civil War Cameos by Lee Smith, Ron Rash, and Allan Gurganus. Bates has also performed original one-woman shows such as The C Word: Her Own Cancer Story and Confessions of a Clergy Wife. Other dramatic roles include parts in Wit, Doubt, Hamlet, and other high-profile performances.
Smith performs Granny D in a way that sometimes shows Granny D and sometimes Smith as she talks about Granny D. The show is sometimes a conversation with the audience about Granny D and her accomplishments, interjected with words taken from Granny’s own journal — which she spent two hours each night writing while on the road. Granny herself was quite the wit and a fine writer, and her words taken from her journal are fascinating reading. But when Smith dons the yellow vest that Granny D walked in she becomes Granny D, complete with her New Hampshire accent.
Smith is joined onstage by musician Jeff Sebens, who makes and plays hammered and lap dulcimers and accompanies Smith throughout the show. He is also another presence onstage, mapping out the route taken by Granny D across the middle of America and encouraging us to join in when a song is called for.
Smith was very comfortable in her skin as Granny D, and her switches from D to Smith and back were as natural as breathing. Her trek across the U.S. is intriguing, and a revelation to people who, like me, had no idea of such a journey. This show is a wake-up call to all who profess to be interested in politics, and we need to heed it.
From here, Go, Granny D! travels extensively, including making stops in such places as Tucson, AZ, at stops Granny D made during her trek. Her story is fascinating, and well worth the time of anyone on her route.