“Where you from?” If you asked Jonathon Ward that question on the streets of New York City’s Times Square or anywhere else, he wouldn’t have an answer right off.
Ward was born in Manhattan, grew up in a town on the Hudson River, spent time in Chicago, North Carolina, Upstate NY, Brooklyn and Long Island. However the feeling that there’s someplace where he’s actually from, which he can call home, eludes him.
“New York City has an incredibly rich and beautiful mix of people from all over the world in vibrant neighborhoods of diverse cultures, but it’s hard for me to answer the question of ‘Where I’m from’ because I’ve replanted my roots several times in this generality we call the Northeast.”
His playwriting enables him to explore his cultural past to discover, for example, why blue-grass music always appealed to him though he didn’t grow up with it. Why he could fall into a West Virginian accent when no one spoke that way around him and why the instinct for independence was so strong in him.
His family on his father’s side was from West Virginia several generations back, and on his mother’s side from the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains in Upstate NY. So he looked into that background to find out about the hidden cultural influences in his life and wrote from what he found.
In July, the New York Theater Festival’s Summerfest 2019 presents an evening of his work called Hill & Holler. The show includes two one-act plays and a song. In addition, there will be live blue-grass music.
In “Devil’s Holler”, Terry and Meg, who are scraping by on his father’s pension check since the steel mill closed, confront the reality that the home they know will no longer be the home they have.
In “Witches on the Hill”, Lisa comes to understand the womanhood her mother and grandmother have known in their heartbreak relations with men. She regains the magic they lost so they can hold onto the land that’s been passed down to them.
The song, called “Son of Abraham” is an interlude. It’s a mountain tale of Abraham who takes his son Isaac to the mountaintop to sacrifice him to God. With banjo accompaniment, it’s a song about how Isaac, whose name in Hebrew means “laughter”, finds happiness.
The evening begins and ends with music by the blue-grass band Crooked Thumb.
Ward has been working in theatre for thirty years as an Arts Administrator at the Abrons Arts Center and NYU Graduate Acting. During that time he’s written plays and made a home for them as best he can.
The theatre appeals to Ward because “Where you from?” is not as important as “Where you going?”
“In putting on a play,” Ward said “Director, actors, designers, and the audience come together to create a new world, a new home, and to inhabit it fully. We’re all lost in the hills and hollers of our mind trying to find a place we can call home. The theatre enables us to go there for a spell to figure things out.”
That’s what the two Appalachian plays and a song are about in Hill & Holler Ward’s play in the New York Theatre Festival.
All performances of Hill & Holler are at the Hudson Guild, 441 West 26thStreet. There are only three performances: Monday, July 22 @ 9pm, Wednesday, July 24 @ 9pm, and Saturday, July 27 @ 6:30. Tickets may be purchased at the door, but are cheaper if you buy on line at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4232318