Lawrence Toppman

Why you should drive to Salisbury to see a play

‘Hands on a Hardbody’ is currently running at Piedmont Players; it’s worth going to Salisbury to see.
‘Hands on a Hardbody’ is currently running at Piedmont Players; it’s worth going to Salisbury to see.

Charlotte’s cosmopolitan enough for most of us to pretend there’s no culture worth worrying about beyond the city limits. I’ve had people tell me over the years that Winston-Salem and even Rock Hill – let alone the Spoleto Festival in Charleston – are too far off to pursue, no matter how appealing an offering might be.

I can be as lazy as the next guy. But I occasionally stir myself for a look at the wider world, and that usually pays off. It did Thursday night in Salisbury.

Even with one inexplicable traffic clog on I-85, I got there in less than an hour. I parked on Main Street and spent 45 minutes in the bargain basement at South Main Book Company, where books are 5 for $10. (My wife may read this, so I’m not going to say how many I bought.) I had a satisfying Thai dinner at Bangkok Downtown on Innes Street. Then I walked back to Main for the reason I had come: the musical “Hands on a Hardbody,” which Piedmont Players is producing at Meroney Theatre.

The show, which played long enough on Broadway to earn a Tony nomination for best score three years ago, comes from the 1997 documentary film of the same name. It’s about people who go to a Nissan dealership in Longview, Tex., for a simple contest: The one who can stand the longest while keeping one hand on a new truck drives it home.

We meet a Marine with psychological trauma, a couple whose marriage is shaky and another whose marriage is secure, a Latino Texan mistaken for an immigrant (and justly annoyed), a woman whose faith in God sustains her – Alexis Greer really rocked this role – and others who need the truck to satisfy their egos, help them escape to L.A. or ferry them to job interviews. I was especially impressed with the small pit orchestra, as good as any I hear at Charlotte-produced musicals.

I wouldn’t have had to drive up the highway if anyone in Mecklenburg County staged out-of-the-way pieces like this one, which runs through Aug. 6. But Piedmont has a habit of picking up shows nobody else will do: It put on the local premiere of Alan Menken’s “Leap of Faith” – in fact, the first production anywhere after Broadway – and will tackle “Peter and the Starcatcher” in the 2016-17 season.

The cultural world’s a large place. And sometimes a little city can teach a big neighbor a thing or two about theater.

Toppman: 704-358-5232