Woody Sed is ostensibly a biography of American folk musician Woody Guthrie, but ultimately it’s a showcase for creator and performer Thomas Jones to mesmerize by embodying the spectacular everyman. The Toronto Fringe Festival show, produced by Two Dollar Shoes, is politically rousing, historically informative, and it just might move you to sing.
Even if you’re not familiar with Guthrie, you’re likely aware of his legacy 50, even years after his death. The author of numerous social justice ballads, including “This Land Is Your Land,” has been acknowledged as an inspiration for musicians such as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and The Clash.
In Woody Sed, solo performer Jones elevates the story beyond a straightforward biography, not only performing Guthrie’s songs, but also portraying Guthrie’s wife, daughter, radio producers, and other musicians who shaped the man’s body of work. Jones’ training in theatrical styles such as Kabuki, Clown, and Improv is on display as he effortlessly switches back and forth between the roster of characters. I particularly enjoyed his performance of a duet between Guthrie and his female musical partner Lefty Lou, where a shift of the posture and a glint in the eyes said as much as the changing lilt of voice.
The humble attitudes of a Depression-era folk singer nicknamed the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” may seem quaint compared to the modern music industry, but there’s a timelessness to this tale. Guthrie, who was known for performing with a guitar bearing the slogan “This machine kills fascists,” and whose unrecorded song “Old Man Trump” protested the racial segregation imposed in housing projects built by Donald Trump’s father, had a sense of politics worth revisiting today.
Woody Sed plays equally well for those less interested in political history than in the story of a fascinating man. While the narrative touches on Guthrie’s efforts to promote worker rights, support racial integration, and oppose fascism, the real emphasis is on human connection, through a handshake, a laugh, and a chorus you can’t help but sing along with. This seems to reflect Guthrie’s ideology that a political campaign is just as powerful as a song that tells the truth.
- Woody Sed plays at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. After the building’s business hours, a staff member will need to escort you through this route, so plan to arrive early for evening shows.
- Wednesday July 5th, 10:30 pm
- Friday July 7th, 08:30 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 08:45 pm
- Monday July 10th, 02:45 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 05:15 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 03:30 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 01:45 pm
Photo of Thomas Jones by Heather Redmond