High-Strung - and Well Sung

Photos by  Ed Krieger

The world premiere of Tim Alderson’s Salvage is a little gem. Musicals are often faced with the creative conundrum of how and why the characters move from talking to singing, but Salvage solves this naturally because it is largely a story about singer-songwriters who strum their own guitars. Preacher (the smoldering David Atkinson, a Georgian who, at certain angles, resembles Kris Kristofferson) is boozing it up, in between crooning CW tunes at a nearly empty hole-in-the-wall bar in god-knows-where-ville. When in walks the much younger Harley (Christopher Fordinal), another Country Western wannabe superstar, who is passing by when he’s lured into the watering hole he has recognized as a musical shrine.


Years earlier, CW legend Floyd took his own life there. The plot thickens as burly bartender Johnson (Leonard Earl Howze, whose credits include August Wilson’s Fences and the Barbershop movies) presides over the saloon which his late father had established and passed down to him. The youthful Harley was en route to a pawn shop to sell his guitar so he can support his pregnant girlfriend Destiny (Nina Herzog) when he made his fateful detour into the dingy dump (with a superbly realistic set designed by Joel Daavid). The older Preacher has a deep dark past that made him a down-on-his-luck, down-on-life has-been whose sole comfort comes from swilling Southern Comfort - and the moving songs he coaxes out of his own gee-tar.


During the course of the approximately 1 hour 45 minute, one-act play Harley and Preacher alternately spar and jam, as the two total strangers come to find a hidden connection between them. Enter the knocked up Destiny, who has been searching for Harley - but finds much more than she bargained for in this high-strung drama.


The songs belted out by Preacher and Harley are expertly played live onstage by the multi-talented actors themselves - it’s live, not Memorex, folks. At one point the (as it turns out) aptly named Destiny - who is a Tammy Wynette “Stand-by-your-man” kind of a gal - adds her dulcet tones to the music-making. With its themes of alcoholism, broken families, lost loves, shattered friendships, the struggle to be an artist, et al, I suspect that Salvage would have been a fine drama without the music. But it’s the songs and the live playing of them that enlivens and elevates this production, which deserves to be presented in a larger venue than the Lounge’s venerable if diminutive showcase in its Theatre 1.


According to press notes, in addition to playwright Tim Alderson: “The songwriters include Mark Heard (covered by Joan Baez, The Call, Bruce Cockburn, and Buddy Miller whose recording of Mark’s song “Worry Too Much” won the Americana Music Award for “Song of the Year” in 2005. He’s part of Macon Georgia‘s musical legacy that includes Little Richard, Otis Redding, and the Allman Brothers Band); Pat Terry (responsible for some of the biggest hits on Country radio having penned chart-toppers for artists Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Sammy Kershaw, Kenny Chesney, and Alan Jackson); Randy Van Warmer (pop hit, "Just When I Needed You Most.” He penned other chart toppers such as, “I’m in a Hurry and I Don’t Why” for Alabama, “I Guess it Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes” for the Oak Ridge Boys, and songs for Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Dolly Parton).”


If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s predictability (hey! did you know I was gonna say that?!) and I really hate shows where you can (correctly) guess what’s going to happen next and the ensuing line of dialogue. But Salvage has a plot twist I couldn’t see from a mile away. Maybe this is because it wasn’t setup properly (that could have been a tip off to the audience?) and I also couldn’t comprehend Preacher’s straying off the path of CW stardom to become a bible thumper. (But then again, what would you expect from an unrepentant atheist, for god’s sake?)


According to press notes, Alderson grew up in Central California’s fields and became “Executive Director of, Seeds of Hope. The company works to alleviate food insecurity for thousands of low-income households in over 100 communities across Southern California through a network of urban farms, food pantries, and meal programs.”


Director Damian D. Lewis (his stage/screen credits include dialect coach for the great new film Harriet) adeptly helms his tight knit ensemble. They all deliver good performances, although the Lounge’s small space can’t contain Howze’s booming baritone as Johnson, whose roots intertwine with that of his tortured customer Preacher. As that character, Atkinson is the standout of the cast, dramatically and musically. A kind of family story set - from time to time - to music, the hard drinking, dramatic Salvage is, oddly enough, a play appropriate for the holiday season, with its hopeful ambiance.


The world premiere of Salvage is being presented on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through Dec. 15 at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038. For more info and reservations: (323)960-7712 or .


The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is available at: .


Photos by Ed Krieger