The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Thomas Alan Holmes

Crawling from the Muck: Stereotyping Appalachia in The Other Side of the Mountain

During the 2008 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, Appalachian folklorist andmusician Sheila Kay Adams began her performance by recounting how she and her grandmother would sometimes sit together in a two-person outhouse on a ridge at her grandmother’s farm. Separated by a modesty board, they nevertheless could look out at the twilight sky and carry on a peaceful and wide-ranging conversation. Inher story, Adams describes being in an airport restroom and hearing the woman in the adjoining stall beginning a conversationmuch like her grandmother would begin. Adams notes that after several of her responses tothewoman, shehears the woman in the adjoining stall say something to the effect of, “I have to go now—the woman next to me will not be quiet.” I have seen versions of this story a number of times since then, commonly in single-panel cartoons where the person calling on the phone expresses annoyance at the chatty person in the next stall. The chatty person’s always being made the fool of in the situation, behind the times enough not to recognize that modern technology has permitted all of us to carry a complete information center into even in the most private areas of public facilities. However, Adams’s version of this story offers a significant interpretation of this situation. In describing the moments with her grandmother, Adams emphasizes the immediacy of company even in one of the most fundamental situations a personexperiences, the vulnerability and radical “creatureness” of relievingoneself, a sharednecessary function that strips away many forms of social convention and pretense. When Adams tells the story, she suggests that our capacity to be present with another person has disappeared as we have come to accept the emulated interaction with others through technology. While she makes self-deprecating comments about being mistaken in believing she has accepted an invitation to a conversation in the airport restroom, she subtly directs her story’s actual criticism to that increasingly familiar loss of community; the technology intended to unite us nevertheless separates us. This memory of Adams’ story came to mind when I attended a performance of Catherine Bush’s The Other Side of the Mountain , a featured portion of Emory & Henry’s Literary Festival in early October 2015. The theme of that particular festival was “A Celebration of Appalachian Theater.” And on the Friday morning prior to the play’s performance, Catherine Bush, the Barter Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence, participated in the “Playwrighting and Performance in

Appalachia Today” panel along with Hannah Harvey, Silas House, Don Baker, Linda Parsons, and Anne Shelby. The panel discussed many topics ranging from community theatre and theatre activism to the consequences of stereotyped depictions of Appalachians. “Playwriting is about service, service to our audience,” Bush assured us. Bush’s The Other Side of the Mountain , a comedy, presents a period of a few weeks when Evelyn Thacker, who has just recently earned her master’s degree in biology, comes to her mountain home to tell her family that she will not be returning to the impoverished community which holds no opportunity for her. This situation, heartbreaking on its own, brings additional complications. Her closest family member, Faye, has hoped that Evelyn will come back to stay; and she has even lined up a clerical job and a fiancé for her returning loved one. In contrast, the family’s matriarch, Jewell, resents Evelyn for her education and opportunity, accusing Evelyn of being ashamed of her home. With little warning, Evelyn encounters a recently paroled old flame, who assumes that she will settle down with him; and no one, including Evelyn, expects that her partner, Siobhan O’Malley, will arrive and reveal to her family that Evelyn is lesbian. In the fall of 2015, Emory &Henry’s Theatre Department offered the following description of the play on its website: When Evelyn comes back from graduate school, she finds life in Mud Creek is just as she left it for better, and for worse. Her family is still living off the mountain in the beautiful countryside, but money is tight, and basic amenities like indoor plumbing are still beyond the budget of her family. Evelyn, however, is radically changed from her time away at college. As Evelyn’s new sense of self comes into conflict with the family she has always known, she learns how hard it is to come home. This description of the play, however, offers a significantly different view of its content than that of the synopsis offered with the sample pages on Catherine Bush’s own website. Bush’s version states that “a clash of cultures ensues, leaving a trail of shattered dreams, shattered secrets and shattered vehicles. Only a missionary priest with a sense of humor and a jug of moonshine have [sic] a chance of restoring the peace, reminding us that once you’ve seen the other side of the mountain, you can never go back” (“ The

Made with FlippingBook flipbook maker