Shawshank Redemption is a must-see at Barter

Published 1:56 pm Monday, June 17, 2024

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By C.Y. Peters

As the lights dimmed and the curtain rose on the Gilliam Stage at Barter Theatre, the audience glared with anticipation. It was opening night for the play adaptation of “The Shawshank Redemption,” a beloved story immortalized by the 1994 film.

Sitting in the front row, I felt as if I had been transported back to the era when the movie first captivated the world. The stage was set with meticulous detail, reminiscent of the infamous Shawshank prison. When Vince McGill, portraying Ellis “Red” Redding, took the stage, his presence was magnetic. McGill’s deep, resonant voice and nuanced expressions immediately drew comparisons to Morgan Freeman’s iconic performance. It was like watching Freeman himself narrate the tale of hope, friendship, and resilience all over again.

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Then, Sam McCalla stepped into the spotlight as Andy Dufresne. With his calm demeanor and quiet strength, McCalla brought Tim Robbins’ character to life in a way that felt both familiar and refreshingly new. The chemistry between McGill and McCalla was palpable, anchoring the play with the same heartfelt connection that made the movie so enduring.

As the story unfolded, the supporting cast delivered equally compelling performances. Nicholas Piper, as Warden Stammas, embodied the cold, manipulative authority figure with chilling accuracy. His portrayal added an extra layer of tension to the narrative, making the oppressive atmosphere of Shawshank all the more tangible.

A special highlight of the evening was Michael Poisson’s portrayal of Brooksie. Poisson captured the essence of Brooks Hatlen, the elderly inmate who tragically couldn’t adjust to life outside the prison walls. His performance was haunting, especially during the poignant scene where Brooksie’s despair culminates in his heartbreaking decision. The raw emotion Poisson conveyed left the audience in silent reverence, a testament to his profound acting skills.

The play’s staging, lighting, and sound design were executed with Broadway-caliber precision. The set transitions were seamless, and the atmospheric music transported the audience deeper into the world of Shawshank. It was evident that the production team had poured their hearts into recreating this classic story for the stage, ensuring every detail paid homage to the original film while also offering a fresh theatrical experience. For me, the evening held an added layer of nostalgia.

Having visited the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, where the movie was filmed, I was struck by how the Barter Theatre’s production evoked the same sense of place and history. The familiarity of the setting, combined with the extraordinary performances, made the experience all the more immersive.

If you loved the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption” at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., is a must-see. It’s as close to a Broadway show as you can get, and the passion and talent on display are nothing short of spectacular. For a few hours, the audience was transported to Shawshank, reminded once again of the enduring power of hope and friendship. “Get on Living or Get on Dying.”