REVIEW: At last, a play you can bring both your kids and your spouse to!It doesn’t take long to enter the woodland world of the scariest, hairiest ‘Hairy Man’ and his latest target, young Wiley [played by Ruthie Zissos]. All it takes is a growl in the darkness, then the magic begins. The lights go up and a quartet of shape-shifting creatures dance around the woods outside Mammy’s cabin, wearing all the colors of a swampy southern forest filled with snakes and other critters while old Mammy [Rick Breuer] smokes her corn-cob pipe.
It doesn’t take long to enter the woodland world of the scariest, hairiest ‘Hairy Man’ and his latest target, young Wiley [played by Ruthie Zissos].
All it takes is a growl in the darkness, then the magic begins. The lights go up and a quartet of shape-shifting creatures dance around the woods outside Mammy’s cabin, wearing all the colors of a swampy southern forest filled with snakes and other critters while old Mammy [Rick Breuer] smokes her corn-cob pipe.
“Now this here’s the story of the Hairy Man. How Wiley and his Mammy made the Hairy Man stomp and rage and gnash his teeth,” the narrator/tree/ woodland creature [Joel Soukkala] tells the audience when the dancing stops.
Throughout the performance, spoken lines flow easily between the main characters, the narrator and the creature chorus, while the pace of the action is perfectly timed to hold the interest of every audience member – ages 3 to 100 – without sending anyone over the edge from too much stimulation.
Several times during the play, two of the four woodland creatures transform into Wiley’s hound dogs with nothing more than a change in attitude as they assume distinctly canine mannerism and speech.
This led to lots of laughs from my three kids (ages 11, 8 and 8) as the “hounds” chase the Hairy Man in and around the trees, nipping and baying at his furry backside as they chase him away.
It’s the dogs, after all, that protect young Wiley as he ventures away from home, “cuz the Hairy Man sure can’t stand no dogs, everybody knows that, everybody knows that,” they explain in solemn and perfectly done southern accents. [Creatures/hounds are played by Jennifer Soukkala, Aleyse Chapin and Kris Nelson.]
For all the action and rhyming couplets, the silent moments – or the times when only a cricket can be heard – have an equal impact and give audience members time to wonder what might happen next as Mammy and her grandson ponder exactly how to get the Hairy Man out of their lives forever.
The entire ensemble play lasts less than an hour, another bonus for those with short attention spans.
For those who want more time out, there’s plenty going on before and after the performance, according to Director Cheryl Kramer-Milder.
In fact, a girl could even get her hair done for the occasion (it is a “hairy man” play, after all).
“We will have hairstylists with their curling rods on the stage before the play, food and kids’ activities in the gallery and a beautiful art display,” Kramer-Milder said, adding that the theater is also raffling a number of most excellent prizes.
“Wiley and the Hairy Man” is a southern version of the time-honored tradition of folk stories detailing how a protagonist outwits a more powerful creature, against all odds. It is pure fun, an entertaining, creatively crafted story that should appeal equally to children and any fun-loving adult, even those who aren’t normally theater-goers.
My kids’ take on the whole experience?
They loved it. And they haven’t stopped asking me when we can see it again.
For your information
What: “Wiley and the Hairy Man” one-act play
When: 7 p.m. March 17, 18, 19 and 2 p.m. March 19, 20
Where: Encore Performing Arts Center and Gallery,
2035 Highway 33 S., Cloquet
How much: Tickets are
$15 for adults, $13 for
students, $40 for family
218-878-0071 or visit www.countyseattheater.com