“And A Guitar”: Go for the Music, Stay for the Story

“And A Guitar”, Carol Hall, Graceland University, Lamoni Iowa

“A guitar is mostly empty space. It isn’t complete until it’s filled with music.”

Who knew? Paul Simon. Joni Mitchell. Johnny Cash. James Taylor. Live on stage here in Lamoni. And let’s not forget Crosby Stills, Nash and Young. How could we be so lucky?

It happened last night at Graceland’s wonderful Carol Hall. And the really good news (if you missed it) is it will happen again tonight (Friday) and tomorrow night, and Sunday afternoon in Leon (schedule below).

Anthony Yoder, bass (Graceland ’14)

So just what is “And A Guitar“? Is it a play? Concert? Drama? Musical? Comedy? One word vocabulary lesson?? Is it all of these? Or not really quite like any of these? Maybe the question is not so much what it IS but what it DOES as it slowly works it spell on the audience.

And A Guitar is a story well told in short dramatic conversations and delightful music that evokes the meaning of the dramatic episodes.

Two old men (Jake Hill and Darrell Johnston) and their server (Kimberly Braun) in the coffee shop.

The action jumps from coffee shop to city council meetings to a guitar maker’s shop. At first you will wonder what two old men in a coffee shop and their petulant server, three people on the city council, a factory worker and wannabe photographer, a guitar maker, a hugely wealthy old man, the unseen board that call the factory shots, and the people of the town have to do with each other. But that is the charm of this story. It respects the intelligence of the audience to pull the pieces together as the story unfolds. What at first seems unclear begins to make sense.

The guitar maker (Jake Hill). Will his dreams be crushed?

Because this is a story of hopes and dreams. It is about tough choices. It is about what people do when their dreams are about to be crushed and the future is uncertain. It is about what we HAVE to do as opposed to what we WANT to do. It is about the pragmatist inside us that argues with the artist. It is about seemingly insignificant choices that have big consequences. And the music woven into the story makes the struggles, hopes, and fears all the more poignant.

The City Council debates tough issues and the future of the town. Not the same people as in the coffee shop (but the same actors).

The small town in the story, which is every small town that struggles with its future, might seem familiar with its coffee shop, small businesses, and 100 year old theater in need of repair. That could be because Darrell Johnston, the playwright for this musical, is a Graceland grad. The town is part of the story too.

Darrell Johnston, actor and playwright for “And A Guitar” (Graceland ’10)

And A Guitar is about heart. That which resonates down inside of us that is most important when everything else is stripped away. The tag line for this story isn’t just about a guitar. It is about us. As Darrell Johnston wrote in the notes “As a playwright, I’ll leave you with this, if a guitar isn’t complete until it is filled with sound, what does a community need before it’s whole?”

James Rio, keyboard

Like everyone else in the audience, I loved the music. You will fight the urge to sing along. You will be mouthing the words, swaying in your seat, and caught up in the music like everyone else around you. This is the wonderful music I grew up on. And the young people in the audience who weren’t even around in the 60s and 70s loved the music too. It’s just great music no matter your age! And while you enjoy the music, the story will work its magic.

Three fine actors, Jake Hill, Darrell Johnston, and Kimberly Braun play all of the characters, so they switch hats a lot.

Joni Mitchell (Kimberly Braun) shows up at the guitar maker’s shop (Jake Hill).

And what about Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, and James Taylor? They just appear out of thin air, sing their classic songs (and a few surprises), and then disappear. That’s what happens when the guitar maker has musical muses. And they look an awful lot like the three actors that play all the other parts in this story.

Mark Braun, guitar and announcer

The fine backup band (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) look an awful lot like Mark Braun (guitar and announcer), James Rio (keyboard), Daren Durell (percussion), and Anthony Yoder (bass).

Daren Durell, percussion

So don’t miss it. If you are a “child of the 60s and 70s” you will love it. And if you aren’t, you will still love it. So grab a friend and head for Carol Hall on campus or the SCIT Theatre in Leon.

Friday, January 11, 7:30 pm Graceland
Saturday, January 12, 7:30 pm Graceland
Sunday, January 13, 2:00 pm SCIT Theatre

One final note. To borrow from Sesame Street, “Tonight’s performance is brought to you by the word LUTHIER.”

“It’s a wrap!”


And A Guitar“: What is the Process I Used to Write the Story? How Long Did It Take?