BY AARON STELLA Unlikely rebel rabble-rouser Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant and union songwriter of the early 20th century union strikes, takes center stage in the sepia spotlight of Dan Rothenberg’s Sweet By-and-By. False promises pervade Hill’s life: in his dealings with God, that he will always provide for and reward the righteous; the American dream, that the sweat of man’s brow is solely his, and cannot be cheated; and that all the working class needs do, according to land and factory owners, is to work harder and hustle longer (even if wages are cut) to alleviate their economic misery. In pleasing baritone, Daniel Rudholm, posing as the great-grandson Hill, narrates the travails of his grandfather’s life story in the style of a vagrant troubadour through campfire songs and dramaturgical recounts; and–although long since passed–how Hill’s thrust for working class uplift still applies today. While I’m not one for the rah-rah union brand of music, Hill’s lyrics aim higher than merely cheering the crowd: they present a thoughtful perspective with the snappiness of a comedian’s whetted wit. And then, there are Hill’s haunting ballads, which Rudholm warbles soulfully in the Swedish tongue. Equipped with a few obscure story-telling devices and some audience participation, Sweet By-and-By delivers a unique juxtaposition of soothing and enthralling theater. Yet, however enjoyable it was, it felt a tad long, which means that what was offered, in its duration, was not totally convincing of its immediate value. Other than that, an all around great performance. What’s Good: The Music; the props; the story and the message.
What’s Bad: A little long. Drink coffee before hand.