Lakewood’s Lilies of the Field a triumph

Bill Dorian

Lilies of the Field is a classic American drama about an African American wanderer who comes to the rescue of a group of Eastern European nuns living in the American southwest. The 1963 film starring Sidney Poitier was one of the first ‘mainstream’ movies with an African American actor in the lead role.

Lakewood Theatre in the Old Hickory community recently produced an exemplary stage version of Lilies… with one of the finest casts on anyone’s stage.

Homer Smith happens upon a group of nuns struggling to make a go of a hopeless farm in the desert sun. He stops to see if they might hire him to do a few odd jobs. He begins by patching the roof, but before you know it the head nun, Mother Maria Marthe, has cajoled him into building them a chapel on the foundation of an old burned out farm house.

Although the nuns are quick to give Homer room and board, they never seem to actually have any money to pay him for his had work. He takes a part time job in town and eventually ends up buying the nuns groceries. He helps them with their English lessons (they’re all East Germans or Hungarians who call Homer ‘Schmidt’), and he entertains them with gospel hymns. Mother Maria also convinces him to give the nuns a lift in his station wagon so they don’t have to walk a long distance to church in the desert heat.

The apropos title Lilies of the Field comes from Matthew 6:27-33: “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?”; 32: “Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these…” and its parallel scripture from Luke 12:27-30: “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They neither [wearily] toil nor spin nor weave; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Elliott Robinson’s performance in the role of wanderer Homer is both sensitive and aggressive. His Homer shows both fierce independence and compassion.

Tammy Sutherland portrays Mother Maria Marthe with good-natured severity. Sutherland’s Mother Maria is stern, but at the same time humorous and likeable.

Rodrigo Streng plays the narrating priest Father Tanner, the padre of the local Catholic Church. Streng is a born storyteller with a friendly, natural delivery.

Bryan Arroyo plays the local innkeeper Jose with quick humor and smooth conversational charisma. Dennis Lindey is both gruff and humorous as the ‘slightly bigoted’ entrepreneur Orville Livingston.

The other nuns composing Mother Maria’s hardworking nunnery don’t speak English well enough to have many lines, but they are delightful as an ensemble and easily the funniest element of the play. The German (or Hungarian) nuns include: Drew Ann Borsos as Sister Agnes; Angela Gimlin as Sister Albertine; Beth Henderson as Sister Gertrude; and Joyce Jeffries as Sister Elizabeth.

Direction by veteran Wilson Reed is sensitive, tight and thoroughly professional. The show is well cast, and the action is seamless.

Lakewood continues its roster with the world premiere of Nice Girls Don’t (April 19-May 5) by area writer and Cumberland University English professor Michael Rex; All the King’s Women (June 7-23), the story of Elvis Presley as told through the eyes of 17 women; and the award-winning coming-of-age tale Bud, Not Buddy (Aug. 2-18). Then there’s The Beverly Hillbillies (Oct. 4-20), featuring the much loved Clampett family; and Charlotte’s Web (Nov. 29-Dec. 15), the gentle family-friendly story of friendship.

Flex passes are available throughout the year, replacing the traditional season ticket.

For more information, visit www.lakewoodtheatre.com or 615-847-0934.

Lakewood Theatre is located at 2211 Old Hickory Boulevard.