Theatre Review: Meet Joe Whitefeather (and bring the family!)

Kraig Swartz and Malka Wallick. Photo by John Jones
Kraig Swartz and Malka Wallick. Photo by John Jones
Dennis "Mitch" Maley
SARASOTA — Commissioned by Florida Studio Theatre during the pandemic, Bruce Graham’s Meet Joe Whitefeather (and bring the family!) recently opened in FST's Gompertz Theatre in downtown Sarasota.

The play is inspired by the story of Jim Thorpe, PA. Formerly Mauch Chunk, the Pennsylvania town was renamed in 1954, in an effort to reverse its post-coal-era decline by making it a tourist destination. Town officials managed to secure the remains of the early 20th-century sports superstar by agreeing to build a park with commemorative statues while also renaming itself in his honor.

Graham sets his play in the fictitious town of Beaver Gap and while Thorpe's likeness and athletic feats are the basis for Whitefeather, the story pretty much departs from its inspiration there. Having grown up one county over from Jim Thorpe, I was excited to see the production and appreciated the nod to area novelist John O'Hara, via a mention of "Gibbsville," the fictional town in which O'Hara set most of his work.

A satirical comedy that got plenty of laughs from the audience during Saturday's matinee, the plot points in Meet Joe Whitefeather were all too heavily telegraphed, save a twist in the final scene that manages to deliver.

To this point, the flashback storytelling device is necessary if clumsily delivered, as older Lucy (Kim Crow), recounts her big story to Marcus (London Carlisle), a rising documentarian in a small set on the side of the stage, with the play drifting in and out of narrative and flashback.

Standout performances included Ellie Mooney, who is downright hysterical in the roles of Abigail and Joanie, while Malka Wallick delivers a strong performance as young Lucy. Kraig Swartz is just over the top enough as Walt, the town's zany mayor, and Britt Michal Gordon is solid as the reluctant police chief, Bob.

Anat Cogan gives a powerful performance as Cierra, who claims to be Whitefeather's surviving heir, while Jared Sellick steals several scenes in the small part of Patty, the funeral director.

Overall, Meet Joe Whitefeather is an entertaining outing that does not ask much of its audience. It runs through May 21. Visit the FST website for ticket information.

Reader Comments
APR 12, 2023  •  How will the actors be able to exercise their right to concealed carry at all times, especially if the role calls for being naked? So much for seeing "Hair" on stage for the 2nd time in my life.