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Beautiful words

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‘Towns Facing Railroads’
Arkansas Repertory Theatre
Jan. 22


For those who haven’t yet experienced the rich imagery and drama of Jo McDougall’s poetry, “Towns Facing Railroads” at the Arkansas Rep’s Second Stage is a great place to start.

The expressive three-person cast of JoAnn Johnson, Nancy Eyermann and part-time Arkansan Joseph Graves brings McDougall’s words from 71 poems to life in a series of vignettes, covered in one act, about small-town life in Arkansas. The town names of Hoxie, Wabbaseka, Hope, New Smyrna and such ring true as places that were built up against railroad tracks, many of which were welcoming passenger lines as late as the 1950s but now barely see any rail shipping traffic at all.

Each actor varies his or her tone and accent to suit the many characters and styles required –- Johnson was Katherine Hepburn-like in one delivery. Graves jumps around with the energy of a man half his age. Eyermann, young and beautiful, conveys the innocence of small-town life and experiences.

Love, farming, family, pets, the people of the towns, the events that highlighted life there such as the traveling circuses, and death –- they are all significant subjects woven together by McDougall’s words. And what words and lines they are: “a Cadillac polished like a Steinway,” “the toothpick pelican that bowed when you left,” “death has a musty breath.”

Set designer Mike Nichols makes great use of the tiny space, with an imposing portion of a picture frame serving to anchor the stage on the left; an old, rickety train track curving away from the center, and simple, unvarnished woodwork throughout serving as benches and walkways.

All the elements combine for a well-spent 70 minutes.

“Towns Facing Railroads” continues through Sunday, Feb. 5, on the Second Stage, an 80-seat small box on the second mezzanine level of The Rep, at 601 Main Street. All seats are $25.

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