A Revised, Edgier 'Homecoming'
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The TV movie "The Homecoming" has been a Christmas staple on cable for over three decades. Earl Hamner wrote the script based loosely on his life growing up in rural Virginia. The story of love conquering economic hardship during the Depression was such a hit that it spawned a popular prime-time series, "The Waltons," which aired throughout the 1970s. Now there is a new adaptation of the story for the stage and this time the characters are less saintly and more edgy. From member station WMRA, David Molpus reports.
DAVID MOLPUS reporting:
Over the years, Earl Hamner has endured his share of criticism for his heartwarming stories of family life in the 1930s. Some consider them completely mythical and, well, sappy. Hamner, who is 82 now, chafes at that. `After all,' he says, `they are talking about my life and my family.'
Mr. EARL HAMNER (Writer): The criticism that I really hated was when some New Yorker described it as treacly. And to me, treacly, I think, means sort of sickeningly sentimental. And God knows we were sentimental, but not to a sickening degree.
MOLPUS: Nonetheless, Earl Hamner, who long ago left Virginia for Los Angeles, readily admits that the TV version of "The Homecoming," which first aired in 1971, glossed over some of the rough edges of John-Boy and the other characters.
Mr, HAMNER: Television tends to get pretty, to over-romanticize and I may have done that in my television version. Might have made it a little too Hollywoodish.
(Soundbite of "The Waltons")
Mr. HAMNER: (Narrating) I had lived in a city, known adventure, found friends and even been kissed by a pretty girl, but it was good to be home again, to know that special love and to hear those special voices.
MOLPUS: Earl Hamner narrating the TV series.
(Soundbite of "The Waltons")
KAMI COTLER: (As Elizabeth Walton) Can I come in, John-Boy?
Mr. RICHARD THOMAS: (As John-Boy Walton) Sure, Elizabeth.
COTLER: (As Elizabeth Walton) I just wanted to see if you're really home.
Mr. THOMAS: (As John-Boy Walton) I'm here, honey.
COTLER: (As Elizabeth Walton) I love you, John-Boy.
Mr. THOMAS: (As John-Boy Walton) I love you, Elizabeth.
MOLPUS: Now, on the occasion of the opening of the Earl Hamner Theater in the rural Virginia county that spawned Hamner's imagination, there's a new version of "The Homecoming," one that's aimed at being more realistic and possibly more appealing to today's audiences.
Unidentified Woman #1: Alice, you need your boots on, babe.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, I hope you all remember your shoes...
Unidentified Girl: I know, but I don't know where they are.
Unidentified Woman #2: OK. Let's get...
MOLPUS: During rehearsals, the cast of 22 amateur actors from around Nellysford, Virginia, are still working out the kinks in this intimate theater, which used to be a kindergarten classroom. Even with a compact set and minimal props, there's room for an audience of only 50. Peter Coy, the theater's artistic director, wrote the new script with Hamner. This version portrays the father, who's late coming home on Christmas Eve, as someone with a wild streak.
Mr. PETER COY (Artistic Director, Earl Hamner Theater): So there's a sense that maybe because it's snowing, he's at a bar in Waynesboro getting drunk or he could be playing cards and spending his paycheck, which they desperately need in the Depression.
MOLPUS: In the new version, the unfailing warmth and wisdom of the characters in the TV show gives way to characters with more obvious flaws. The mother in the play, Olivia, shows signs of more tiredness, tension and impatience. Even the dutiful John-Boy character is allowed to express resentments.
Unidentified Man: (As John-Boy) What am I doing cracking walnuts for my mother to make applesauce cake? What am I doing? And baby-sitting a bunch of kids! What kind of a man am I going to be?
MOLPUS: Even with the script changes, the story is still about love and hope and the potential of anyone to do noble deeds, all the basic ingredients that Earl Hamner says keep "The Waltons" TV series in reruns around the world.
Mr. HAMNER: And I guess it's because we all have families and we all wish them to be as responsive to each other as the Walton characters were, to have a loving mother and father and that kind of security that family can provide.
MOLPUS: The new adaptation of the Waltons "Homecoming" story opens December 1st and has a 10-day run in Nellysford, Virginia. The promoters hope it will be adopted by community theaters around the country. Meanwhile, they are already thinking about their next Earl Hamner adaptation, a play based on one of his "Twilight Zone" scripts. For NPR News, I'm David Molpus.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP (Co-host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.
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