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Margaret Baker’s “The Pickers” by Susanna Robinson-Kenga

Margaret Baker is a local treasure. She teaches, she performs, she writes, she does incredible drama workshops in the local schools, and her creativity knows no bounds. Her latest endeavor is to write, direct, and present a mirthful (and at times uproarious) play, called “The Pickers”, presented by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop, and performed at the beautiful Marlinton Opera House.

The Opera House is definitely intimate and historically amazing, being part of the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail. The original building was constructed in 1907, and it has since gone through many incarnations, including serving as a community center, a newspaper headquarters, a roller rink, and a car dealership, eventually settling back to its original function as a community arts center. It was restored, having been purchased (sans floor or stage!) by the Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks Commission in the 90’s. They refurbished it to its present state, still quaint and lovely, in 1998. With its beautiful but small stage, its tin ceilings and wraparound balcony, arched windows with a view of the quiet street outside, I am always moved by the diversity of audience members whose common thread is the love of performance of many kinds, from bluegrass to classical to jazz to folk to dramatic theatre. At intermission, they have home-made cookies provided by the Boy Scouts! How much more wholesome does it get!

So a small caravan of us, family and friends and theatre-lovers, braved the rainy, foggy drive up the serpentine and circuitous Rt. 219, to see our Margaret’s words carried to the stage, a journey from thought to page to script to cast to stage, where human beings speak those thoughts and carry it through. That must be incredibly satisfying for a writer, and even more so when it’s actually staged and cast well , and the audience laughs in all the right places, which was the case.

What do two locals in their ever-cozy home, a guilt-ridden senator and his high-maintenance trophy companion, a dead dog named Shep, and an innocent game of Scrabble among strangers have to teach us? Could it be that we are often happiest with what we already have, perhaps? Or that we should just behave ourselves and everything will work out?

The play’s name, The Pickers, comes from a slang term used for the “outsider” skiers who make their way to Snowshoe and Silvercreek to ski, often on daddy’s money, and often clueless of and perplexed by the ways of the native West Virginians. And it does have to do with their icicle-laden noses, yes it does, as you feared, having nothing to do with antique searching, nor playing music.

It tells the story of a local couple, Lloyd and Hazel, whose complacent fortitude toward preparing for yet another snowstorm has reached new heights of mundane perpetuation. And then the crash of a car outside, carrying two “pickers” with a secret agenda, Gene and Breezy, whose getaway to Snowshoe is cut short by their being stranded by fate and a snowy highway, miles from any tow-truck that will venture out, and even further from hotel accommodations, including even the always enticing Muskrat Lodge.

So the tale unfolds, with intrigue, eventual gunplay, and a series of suspicious motives and misunderstandings. Farcical in theme, with great “down-home” colloquialisms thrown in as a bit of an inside joke for those of us who hail from the area, the play makes great use of the humor of what we draw on every day. Baker uses local names and businesses with a casual intimacy, brought in a way only someone on the inside could render. At one point, Hazel is singing the praises of her longtime mate by saying, “Still got his original teeth and hair. What more could a girl want?” Lloyd pipes up, “And I don’t chew,” confusing poor Breezy as to how that could work. One of so many hilarious moments.

Cast as the married couple were an actual married couple, Joyce and Dwayne Edward Kennison. While not exactly Tracy and Hepburn, they were comfortable in their portrayals, Joyce bringing a certain sweetness and naivety to her role, with her counterpart bringing a more commanding and effortless comical portrayal of a good old boy whose gruff and detached ways hide a heart of gold. The other couple were expertly cast, with Scott Triplett as the up-to-no-good Gene Jones, and Emily Newton as his young lady-friend whose waggish fish-out-of-water bewilderment is played with comic proficiency and expertise.

So it was a rollicking good-time, with curtain calls a-plenty , but where was our writer, the hilarious Margaret Baker? She was watching from the back, as even the stage manager, Jane Huppert, took a bow. She’s the queen of all things creative, all things humorous to be observed and filed away in her amazing brain. She knows how to bring even the most shy of children out of their private little realms to act silly in workshops, and she knows how to break down inhibitions of actors, dancers, students, and more. A treasure. I googled her and this, amusingly , was something that came up, and I quote: “Margaret L. Baker was born in 1954. Margaret currently lives in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Before that, Margaret lived in Hillsboro, WV. Before that, Margaret lived in Hillsboro, WV.” Oh, people, she’s so much more than that.

-Susanna Robinson Kenga LBSPY #34 (June 3-17th)

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Publisher/Editor in Chief at HashtagWV | + posts

HASHTAGWV ART & ENTERTAINMENT Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Christina Entenmann-Edwards has been a WV resident since September 2008. She was born and raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and is no stranger to hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2006, she graduated from Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut), Cum Laude, with a B.A. in History. In 2010, she graduated with an M.B.A. from Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia). In February 2012, Christina launched HashtagWV as the area’s first full-color, free arts and entertainment tabloid + online platform. Christina completed the Leadership West Virginia class of 2021, which is an innovative program that grows, engages, and mobilizes leaders to ignite a life passion to move West Virginia forward.