“West By God” is a new play by Brandon McCoy, a West Virginia native transplanted to the DC metro area, who is Keegan Theatre’s current Playwright in Residence. I mention that McCoy is a West Virginia native because West “By God” Virginia happens to be central to the theme of his play about roots, family, home, and who we’re “allowed” to judge, both individually and as a society.
I highly recommend ‘West By God’ as a heartfelt love poem by its author, Brandon McCoy, to his home state of West Virginia.
I had feared going into this play that it might be nothing more than a political diatribe, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There is an aspect of the play which questions why rednecks seem to be an acceptable target for mockery by the rest of so-called polite society when other impoverished, marginalized groups are not, but that’s about as political as the play gets. (And the points made are excellent. In case you didn’t know, West Virginia is awesome and beautiful and the people are amazing. My father-in-law and his family are West Virginians and I love visiting them and the state which is why I wanted to see this play. But just in case you think of something negative when you hear the words “West Virginia,” this play will be a positive education for you!)
The heart of the play, though, is about family – and who can’t relate to family drama? That may be the one universal component we all undoubtedly have in common. As characters Reginald (DeJeanette Horne) and Robert (Kevin Hasser) demonstrate, be ye black, white, or West Virginian, there is more than likely something not quite perfect in your relationship with certain members of your family. In fact, I distinctly remember Robin Roberts’ commentary during Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding about how relatable Meghan was for having family drama, because (her point was) don’t we all?
Robert is on his way back to West Virginia to say good-bye to his dying grandmother and on the plane, he and seatmate Reginald ponder the different meanings of home. Horne and Hasser meld together as actors into a completely believable lasting friendship for their characters that feels authentic. Robert’s mom Sophia, played to the hilt by Rena Cherry Brown, was by far my favorite character of the show. The odds were perhaps unfairly in her favor because she was the comedic character and she had me laughing out loud with almost every line, but Brown played her heavier scenes with equal finesse which made them all the more poignant after so much humor.
Newcomer Rachel Trauner (in her first professional production) was another standout, playing the teenaged West Virginian Martha with just the right amount of angst, mixing longing and frustration into her squabbles with her mother in a balanced proportion to keep us empathetic with her character as she expresses her longings to leave West Virginia. The cast was well rounded out by Sheri S. Herren as Martha’s concerned mom Agnes, Susan Marie Rhea as impassioned college professor Bella teaching a course on Appalachian culture, and Colin Smith as Robert’s take-it-as-it-comes older brother Calvin.
I highly recommend “West By God” as a heartfelt love poem by its author, Brandon McCoy, to his home state of West Virginia. Is the play also about home, friendship, family, choices, judgments, forgiveness, and all those deeper things too? Of course. But I think you’ll discover through watching “West By God” that all of these emotional gray areas reside as surely in the living rooms of West Virginia as they do in those of the DC metro area, and that’s kind of the point.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Advisory: Profanity. Recommended for mature middle schoolers and up.
“West By God” by Brandon McCoy at The Keegan Theatre plays through October 20, 2019. For more information, click here.