A play being presented at Piedmont Virginia Community College this weekend will focus on one family’s experiences to examine the pain, resilience and resolve of Virginians evicted from their Blue Ridge Mountain homes in the 1930s to enable the creation of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
"Can’t Feel at Home," written by Dr. John T. Glick and adapted and directed by Stanley W. Schwartz, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the V. Earl Dickinson Theater at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
"It’s a historical play. It’s a realistic look at what happened and how the families dealt with it," said Bobby Wolfe, who is producing the play with Joe Appleton for JoeBob Productions and presenting it with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. "And it’s a healing play."
Glick was a popular physician who served patients in Elkton and Shenandoah, and he also performed in the musical comedy team Glick & Phillips. Wolfe said Glick drew inspiration for his play from stories he heard from patients whose lives had been upended by the evictions.
His play relies on a narrating grandmother’s recollections of the traumatic expulsion of families losing everything they’d owned and loved to benefit strangers in the name of tourism and modern progress. Ten children are in the cast, and one young character is an 8-year-old girl who is among the last residents to leave.
Wolfe said that Glick, who died Jan. 17, had hoped to see his play presented in all eight Virginia counties that were affected by the evictions: Albemarle, Fauquier, Greene, Madison, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham and Warren. A December production by Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg demonstrated strong interest in Rappahannock County.
"Three shows turned into five, and all the shows sold out," Wolfe said. Five shows soon turned into 10, and a third production is planned there from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook can be seen in the cast at PVCC, portraying Virginia Gov. George Peery. Snook said audience members will see his side of a conversation with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in one scene and an exchange with a Rockingham County sheriff in another scene that will change characters’ lives forever.
"The first scene, I’m on the phone with FDR," Snook said. "The second scene is right at the end. The sheriff has come in and is speaking on behalf of the family, and I go all Snidely Whiplash or Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader on them."
Snook, who participated in theater productions in high school, said the play can help Charlottesville residents gain deeper insights into how painful the mountain evictions were to the surrounding community. While shaping his portrayal, Snook said, he drew on his memories of a summer experience that brought the tragedy of the evictions home to him.
"In 1972, I worked for a summer doing work on Skyline Drive," Snook said. He cut overgrown brush and helped clear out stone-lined ditches and gutters that had filled with debris over the years since Civilian Conservation Corps workers had built them in the 1930s.
Snook was surrounded at work that summer not only by tangible reminders of the project to create the park, but also by the emotional impact it continues to have on local families.
"My coworkers, most of their families had been evicted and pushed down into the hollers," Snook said. "It was a very real thing for them.
"Here in Charlottesville, we don’t always appreciate that these families were not just losing their homes, but that their government was doing it to them."
"We really appreciate him doing a cameo," Wolfe said of Snook.
Wolfe said that audience members will be able to explore a wide variety of emotions. The youngest mountain residents, for example, are torn between the looming reality of losing the homes they grew up in and the landscapes they loved playing in and the anticipation of finding more modern homes with electricity and radios. And, Wolfe said, the show isn’t nonstop tragedy.
"There’s a funeral, and there’s a hoedown, and there’s music," Wolfe said. "It’s a total package for a play."
Tickets are $30 at the door and $25 in advance. They’re available in advance at https://CFAH-Albemarle.eventbrite.com.