Jerry Garcia may be dead, but his demise only temporarily dissuaded Godot Is Dead playwright Michael Norman Mann from forging ahead with Cumberland Blues, a theater piece that includes songs by the late Dead icon. Mann eventually secured the blessings of surviving band members to use work crafted by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, as well as additional material from Phil Lesh and Greg Anton. Struck by the emotional undergirding connecting the early Dead albums American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, Mann envisioned a familial drama with heavy doses of dissent and reconciliation. He wrote the plot around a '40s-era coal-mining family whose three grown sons have returned to bicker over the family business and say goodbye to their father, who is dying of black lung. Mann then scored the drama with over a dozen songs taken mostly from those early Dead albums, including "Bertha," "Brokedown Place," and "Uncle John's Band." Local musicians including New Riders of the Purple Sage pedal steel guitarist Bobby Black, Lost Weekend violinist Don Dally, and his bandmate, guitarist Mark Holzinger, are among the members of an onstage group re-creating the albums' Appalachian string-band sound, backed by the Cumberland Blues chorus. Mann workshopped the show with a 15-member cast from the San Jose Stage Company earlier this year; it naturally debuts in the Dead's hometown at 8 p.m. Thursday (and runs through Sept. 6) at the Stage Door Theater, 420 Mason (at Powell), S.F. Admission is $25-38; call 433-9500.
-- Heather Wisner