Peter Neofotis Tells Darkly Comic Tales from Concord, Virginia for the Theater of the American South

by Robert W. McDowell

Classical Voice of North Carolina

May 15, 2010, Wilson, NC: The Theater of the American South’s presentation of Concord, Virginia, written and performed by Peter Neofotis, is a splendid piece of storytelling, featuring “The Heiress” and “The Ancients,” two of the 11 remarkable Southern Gothic stories about his rural hometown not too far from the North Carolina border. Proving once and for all that you can go home again and even dish some delicious dirt about the town’s most notorious citizens, Neofotis won the 2007 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella for Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories.

Having previously been described as “the seeming lovechild of Truman Capote and Eudora Welty,” the diminutive squeaky-voiced father of the nonfiction novel and one of the most formidable grand dames of Southern literature, Peter Neofotis is definitely a different type of raconteur. Boyish, well groomed, a bit effete, he nevertheless possesses a gimlet eye for human foibles and a facility for waxing poetic even when the subject matter is sordid. Moreover, Neofotis limns the unforgettable characters of his stories so vividly that they truly live and breathe on the page and in his uproarious recital of their misadventures.

In “The Heiress,” well-endowed equestrienne Betty Joe Lee deButt Carlisle becomes the Paris Hilton of Concord by shooting her miserable old one-handed penny-pinching father, William Carlisle, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s rifle — and the local powers that be rule that Concord’s richest citizen died by accident. Her motive: years before William Carlisle “accidentally” shot her mother to death and, most recently, he had cruelly executed her ailing jumper, Snail Shadow, out of pure meanness rather than foot the modest bill to transport him to the local veterinarian.

“The Ancients” is a darkly comic story about Old Lady (Elise) MacJenkins, Concord’s oldest citizen, her fierce pack of giant-sized dogs, and her beloved 150-foot-tall walnut tree, which she named Methuselah. When the power company and local government officials decided to dam the Fork River at Concord Pass and flooded her home place, MacJenkins and her aged and similarly dispossessed friend Alistair MacGregor put up a heroic resistance, a last stand truly worthy to be compared to the other great last stands of American history on the outskirts of the town of San Antonio and on the plains of Montana. “The Ancients” is a knee-slapping story that ends with a lump-in-the-throat moment and, like “The Heiress,” Peter Neofotis keeps a rapt audience sitting on the edges of their seats throughout the telling of this tangled tale.

Consulting director Lila Neugebauer has done a fine job of helping Neofotis shape his material into bite-size nuggets that the audience can easily digest. She also helps him craft a charming onstage persona and deliver his revelations about the frailties of his fellow citizens of Concord with warmth and wit and great affection.

It’s a rare treat to hear an author recite, from memory, chapters from his own prize-winning book. But Concord, Virginia leaves its audience hoping that Neofotis will return to the Wilson County seat to regale his new legion of fans with another chapter or two.

Concord, Virginia will resume its three-week run on May 20, 22, 23, and 28-30 in the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre at Barton College in Wilson, NC. See the CVNC theater calendar for details.


Theater review: 'Concord, Virginia'
Richmond Times Dispatch

by Susan Haubenstock

"Concord, Virginia" is a deftly chosen season opener for Sycamore Rouge. While a one-man dramatization of two short stories might not seem the best prospect for the Petersburg theater, it turns out to be a fortuitous meshing of quirky Virginia sensibilities.

Lexington native Peter Neofotis' 2009 book "Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories" is the source of the tales. Neofotis writes in the comic/Gothic vein (think Clay McLeod Chapman), taking a slyly affectionate look at a small, fictional Appalachian town about 50 years ago. So there's humor, there's weirdness and there's blood, right from the gunshot that opens the first of this pair of narratives.

Neofotis is also the performer who brings the tales to life. Richard Gottlieb originally directed Neofotis, who has gone on to present the stories in various theaters before coming to Sycamore Rouge.

He's a remarkable figure with his white suit, floppy dark hair and soft Southern speech. The two stories -- "The Heiress" and "The Ancients" -- are clever and intriguing and surprising.

This suits "The Heiress," which tells of a horsewoman who has an alcoholic father, and "The Ancients," about the federal government's attempt to seize an old lady's land to build a dam.

Simple enough premises, but in Neofotis' hands they are the basis for journeys to unexpected territory. They make for an enjoyable 90 minutes of laughs and gasps.


Harold Pinter Meets Southern Gothic

  “The Southern Gothic genre is marvelously reincarnated in these beguiling stories penned and performed by Peter Neofotis. "The Botanist" navigates between savagery and delicacy. A brutalized student falsely charged with "forced sodomy" finds unlikely support from a black soldier and an eccentric older white woman inspired by the hidden powers of plants. In the stunning "The Vultures," George MacJenkins commits to being "a man with no guns" after his wife dies in a freak shooting accident. But his resolve is tested when vultures mysteriously congregate in his yard. Eerily magnificent.”

    -John Townsend, The Star Tribune


    "Peter Neofotis is an extraordinary storyteller. He does more than narrate; he embodies every syllable of his well-crafted prose, which centers on a small town in the mountains of Virginia. He navigates characters, drama and flashbacks with grace and brings like to an entire town through the personalities and personal histories of its people."

    -Sarah Vig, The Appalachian Voice


    ‘Concord, Va.' is Powerful, Moving Work

    “The fine old Southern art of storytelling is being stunningly demonstrated at N.C. Stage Company with Peter Neofotis dramatically reciting two tales from his new book “Concord, Virginia.”
    “Reciting” is far too antiseptic and clinical a description of the high drama portrayed by this young actor-writer, who gives us segments of his fictional hometown, with a touch of Lake Woebegon, as written in neo-Southern Gothic style.
    The tales are intensely interwoven, with many of the same characters appearing in more than one of these free-standing episodes. Yet there is a cumulative buildup from tale to tale, and an increasing richness of texture as one reads further and deeper into the often riveting and always engaging revelations.
    The particular characters and circumstances in Concord, Va., reflect the regional richness of mid-20th-century Shenandoah Valley. Neofotis is a wholesome-looking 20-something lad who is wise beyond his years, with rare insight into the dynamics around him.
    There is whimsy and poignancy in his tales, and violence and graphic sexuality, particularly in the telling of a sodomy trial that is the core of the first tale of the performance. That chapter, called “The Botanist,” is full of descriptions of interracial, same-sex nocturnal activities in a fictional college frat house. Be forewarned that this is not restrained nor tempered tale-telling.
    The second act of the performance is “The Ancients.” Though not graphically sexual, this story is even more violent in its descriptions. Yet most in the audience will find the open, direct conversations to be rewardingly reported. Both tales are intense, and the author's interpretation of the already fine material is exemplary.
    One-person theater is always a risk, perhaps the more so when the material is both written and staged by that same person. There is essentially no staging, no props and not even simplistic costume alterations. Yet, there is no tedium.
    Come prepared for strong situations, but ones that convey meaning beyond the eloquent text.”
    -Jim Cavener, Asheville Citizen-Times

    “The one-man show, based on the book Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories, is a well-played and often gripping performance. Acted by the author, Peter Neofotis, Concord presents a collection of intertwined short stories about small-town Virginia. Neofotis manages to both narrate the tales as well as performing the town’s residents as they speak their minds. Characters range from 22 year-old golden boy Jackson McCormick to Elise MacJenkins (who, according to the book, was “older than Melthusaleh, the 150-foot-tall black walnut tree that stood, gnarled and grand, in her cabin’s front yard”). Neofotis does all the voices, though his performance style is less about impersonations and more about relaying a story — almost like a chatty uncle who grabs the spotlight at a family reunion.
    And that’s part of the charm of Concord. These are stories, rather than a script. And while Neofotis does take measures to convey drama and humor (some surprisingly balletic arm gestures, sitting and standing to switch quickly between characters, the mostly successful transition from a high-falutin’ Southern drawl to the more backwoods twang of a federal police officer), ultimately the production comes down to some polished, carefully-crafted yarn-spinning.
    That being the case, Concord stands on its own as a book. In fact, I highly recommend it. From the first sentence, Neofotis reveals himself as a talented writer, his work walking the line between charming day-in-the-life anecdotes (think: Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days) and something more esoteric (Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology). Within Concord, people relate to each other and to the environment. They are quirky, imperfect, racist and judgmental. They do bad things, and sometimes they right those wrongs, but the stories are less about redemption than they are about the human condition...
    Read the book before attending if you want a primer; don’t if you like surprises. Both experiences are equally enjoyable...It’s poignant, yet Neofotis finds room for humor as well.”
-Alli Marshall, The Mountain XPress

    “Don’t ask Peter Neofotis to tell you a bed time story, unless you are prepared to remain awake reeling with laughter, welling up with tears and fearing the prospect of ominous birds swooping down into your hair. Armed with a vivid and exuberant voice and an impeccable attention to detail, Neofotis takes his audience on a journey to a most riveting and vibrant place”
    -Eleanor Goldberg, New York Cool

    “..And finally, recent Columbia graduate Peter Neofotis, the seeming love child of Truman Capote and Eudora Welty, is single-handedly reviving the forgotten art of dramatic panegyric at Dixon Place with recitations from Concord, VA, his novel chronicling the inhabitants of a Blue Ridge Mountain town over the course of a century. With the memorization skills of Vanessa Redgrave and the sexy looks of Jake Gyllenhaal, Neofotis seems destined for greatness!”
-David Hurst, NYC’s Next Magazine

     “Vividly drawn from his recently published collection of short stories, Concord, Virginia: A Southern Town in Eleven Stories, author/performer Peter Neofotis demonstrates a singular gift for channeling the beauty and ugliness of life in small town Virginia. Neofotis tells two stories, one relating to homophobia and hate crimes, one depicting the unexpected spiritual resurgence brought on by an encounter with obstinate mob of vultures. As different as they are, both stories convey a deeply empathic view of human nature that Neofotis underscores with a masterful command of language and cadence. This is storytelling at its finest, transporting the listener to another place and time that feels immediately familiar – even if you’ve never been there."
    -Brad Richardson, The Examiner (Twin Cities)


    “A 'panegyrical performer', and it's not just the act of praise that he covers; there is a whole spectrum of emotions expressed on stage. Neofotis puts himself truly in the story; he feels it, he lives it, and he invites you, the audience, to be there with him in the moment.... Straight from the opening line, you are there in the midst of an oration that will make you laugh, cry and then hold your breath.”
    -Matt Tucker, One and Other  (UK)

    "Concord, Virginia is a warm, textured vision of rural America, conjured out of thin air and lovingly explored...panegyric, like an ode from a Greek chorus to a forgotten time... an accomplished work of literature, and 28-year-old Neofotis is well suited for the live translation. By the end, the dark theatre is warmed and illuminated, and we are strangers no more."
    -Hunter Styles,