Feeding off dead memories

Theater in the Round’s ‘Foxfire’ is a ghostly tale of love

Fungus might not seem like the most flattering comparison to make for the ties that bind, but “Foxfire,” a play of the inevitable choice between place and family, proves it to be surprisingly accurate.

Opening Theatre in the Round’s 55th season, “Foxfire,” directed by Lynn Musgrave, gets its title from the name of a luminescent fungus that thrives on the dying trees of southern Appalachian forests. The play uses this natural wonder as a subtle metaphor for our attachments to things that must eventually decay and disappear.

Written by veteran stage and screen actor Hume Cronyn and novelist Susan Cooper,

“Foxfire” is the heart-rending but clever story of 79-year-old Annie Nations (Marilyn Murray), a charmingly tough old spitfire who single-handedly manages Stoney Lonesome, her 100-acre farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

But lonesome she isn’t, as the ghost of her husband Hector (Charles Torrey) lovingly haunts Annie five years after his death.

However, unexpected visits force her to reconsider and eventually uproot from her quaint lifestyle. Prince Carpenter (Kevin Schrammen), is an oily real estate agent intent on getting Annie to sell her land to make way for fancy new developments.

Her grown son Dillard (Rob Frankel) shows up shortly thereafter, a big-shot country star who has strayed from what he truly loves and now only feigns a hometown connection for authenticity. Dillard faces some familial troubles of his own – raising two children alone after his “city wife,” Cheryl, leaves him for another man and persuading Annie such isolation no longer is practical for a woman her age.

Easily a play that could fall victim to preachy predictability, “Foxfire” is a triumph thanks to its actors alone. Each performance affably is three dimensional – Murray’s and

Torrey’s in particular. They are able to portray a bond indestructible even in death.

Further highlighted by a beautiful set and a prominent three-piece bluegrass combo, “Foxfire” packs quite an unexpected punch in rich detail, but thankfully does not hog the spotlight from the fine performances.

“Foxfire” undoubtedly will appeal to anyone who aches for a place that now exists only in memory, an unfortunate but strengthening struggle each person faces as they move further out on their own and further from their family.

Hector’s ghost appropriately concludes the play with a handful of dirt and a simple final response to Annie’s departure from Stoney Lonesome after deciding to move to Florida with Dillard’s family. The dirt, as unglamorous a concept as it is, is where we come from and where we end up.

And as the last line states, “She’ll be back.” Even if we must leave, we all come back sometime, somehow.