A REVIEW: 'The Outsiders' brings popular book to vivid life on stage

Trish Morgan
Special to the News Tribune
The "Greasers" in Cumberland Theatre's version of "The Outsiders" include:  Jacob Hale (Two-Bit), Sky Nelson (Sodapop Curtis), Jace Courrier (Ponyboy Curtis), Dante Santos (Dallas Winston), Donny Ness (Johnny Cade), Reed Lancaster (Darry Curtis), and Hayden Shoemaker-Davis (Steve).

Based on a dramatic and enduring work of fiction that inspired the 1983 film featuring an all-star cast including Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Tom Cruise, S. E. Hinton's classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it was the day it was first published.

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends—true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect—until the night someone takes things too far.

Being among those who never recalls reading the novel, not even as required reading in high school, being present in the audience to see what this play was all about was worth every minute.

To be honest, at first I was so excited to see Donny Ness back on the local stage. The last local production Donny starred in was "Oliver!” as Oliver at WVU Potomac State College in Keyser. I, too, was part of that large cast of actors, and hearing Donny Ness was back? Terrific news! Now that's not to say he's not been busy since then. Donny has also ventured into film acting and has starred as Charlie in "Ape Canyon" and Young Eric in an episode of "Evil Lives Here.”

Here in "The Outsiders,” Donny plays Johnny Cade, who lacks self confidence and comes from a home where there is no love. He's bullied by the Socs (the rich kids from the right side of town), and spends much of his time down on his luck and suffering from PTSD. Donny is a master of all emotions on stage. His role is challenging, but this young actor's got the chops!

This play is relevant even today, as it helps us see how we could be judged for what we look like, who we are, where we live, and even how much money we may have or not have. There are many kids today who feel they are outcasts for being different, for thinking differently or for not wanting to conform in order to belong. This play offers to distinguish those lone wolves from the rest of their friends - and demonstrate that they are not alone.

Taking a magnificent role with an incredible amount of lines as the narrating Ponyboy is Jace Courrier, who in his tender sophomore year at Keyser High School, manages to shine on stage. Jace has monologue after monologue, narrating between actions on stage, plus playing the coveted role of Ponyboy Curtis. I have watched this young man grow from a little boy to now age 16, and his growth as an actor is phenomenal. He didn't mess up one line; now THAT'S a gifted actor.

I found Jace's onstage interactions with other actors quite mesmerizing, especially with his brothers Darry Curtis (Reed Lancaster) and Sodapop Curtis (Sky Nelson). From the audience's perspective, you could just tell these three fellas has such respect for and camaraderie with each other. Reed and Sky had terrific timing, and played up their brother roles to perfection!

Dante Santos who played the role of Dallas Winston was just larger than life. This was his premier with Cumberland Theatre, although he has quite a portfolio of artistic productions including plays, short films, music recordings/productions, and showcases. Dante is also a singer, songwriter and musician. So what happens when CT brings someone like him to the stage? Magic. Star presence. Swag. Come back, will ya, Dante??!

Two other actors, one new to the CT stage, are Jacob Hale (Two-Bit) and Hayden Shoemaker-Davis (Steve). These guys rounded out the "greasers" - considered by the Socs as poor white trash from the wrong side of the tracks. Both Jacob and Hayden have vast experience on and off the stage, and seeing them as "greasers" with the rest of the guys was just terrific! Even though there were a lot of newcomers to this cast at CT, they bring a wealth of talent!

Same goes for the entire cast. It is rare to bring on so many new faces to the stage at Cumberland, and every single one with years and years of experience in community theatre, college and university productions, crew and stage management, talent groups, dinner theatre and festivals. What an awesome cast this is!! Director Seth Thompson was given gold when he took the helm, and it showed. I have seen many post-show comments on social media, some of which have said, "This is the best production I have ever seen!" and "That final rumble scene was perfectly played!" I agree, one and all. Seth, you played to each actor's strengths, and directed a masterful production.

The Socs were played by Justice Courrier, Sawyer Jenkins, John McConnell, Brett Reel and Trevor McCabe. Excellent fight scenes, guys, and Brendon - you have the perfect stage voice and such a way of pulling in the audience when you speak!

Other actors are Marilyn McManaway (Sandy), Emily Snyder (Cherry), Ava Breighner (Marcia), Connor McCabe (Bob), Brendon McCabe (Randy), Brian Records (Paul), Tim Bambara (Jerry/Doctor), Emily Haworth (Mrs. O'Bryant) and Ebony Gennes (Nurse).

Production staff, in addition to Seth Thompson, director, are Kimberli Rowley, stage manager; Ebony Gennes, assistant  stage manager; Darrell Rushton, fight director; Rhett Wolford, set, lighting and sound design; Jennifer Clark, costume design; Brendon McCabe and Trevor McCabe, lighting assistants; Kimberli Rowley and Jennifer Clark, props; Trevor McCabe, lighting and sound tech; Connor McCabe, deck captain; Brian Records, fight captain.

This production is made possible by generous sponsorship of Chessie Federal Credit Union, and the theatre will have its final three performances this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, 2 p.m.

For ticket information and reservations, call 301-759-4990.