Special guest coming for ‘Hairy Man’ showsThe County Seat Theater Company is expecting a special guest at its “Wiley and the Hairy Man” performances June 29-30.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
The County Seat Theater Company is expecting a special guest at its “Wiley and the Hairy Man” performances June 29-30.
Playwright/author Jack Stokes and his son are traveling to Cloquet for both performances of the local production that won its way through the state and regional competitions all the way to the National Association of Community Theatres Festival in Rochester, N.Y. “Wiley and the Hairy Man” is playing again this summer for two shows only at the Encore Performing Arts Center, as a fundraiser to help the cast and crew raise money to take the show on the road to the World Festival of Children’s Performing Arts in Japan.
It will be Stokes’ first trip to Minnesota.
County Seat Theater Company General Manager Joel Soukkala said the visit came about after he corresponded with Stokes to get permission to record the local production so he could apply for various grants to help fund their international trip in July. Stokes sent a very nice email reply back and said he wished he could see the show. One thing led to another and Stokes is now committed to visiting Cloquet to see his words brought to life.
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, and 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 the story of the Hairy Man. How Wiley and his Mammy made the Hairy Man stomp and rage and g-nash his teeth,” the narrator/tree/woodland creature [Joe Gay] tells the audience when the dancing stops.
Stokes said he ran across the story of “Wiley and the Hairy Man” in a book of folk tales.
“I immediately wrote a play based on the story – I believe I titled it merely ‘The Hairy Man,’” Stokes said. “A performing group I headed performed it throughout the area. Then, at a writer’s conference, I read it aloud to an audience of writers. An agent of a publisher happened to be in the audience (Macrae Smith Company), and he wrote to me saying they would have no interest in publishing a play, but could I transform it into a children’s tale, for which they would hire an illustrator? That’s what I did. Robert Byrd did the illustrations.”
Unfortunately that book is now out of print. However, after the book was published, a theater group in Chicago wrote to Stokes asking permission to adapt it as a play.
“Overwhelmed, I did not say what I should have said – that it already existed as a play, that it had originally been written as a play – and so I gave them permission to adapt it into a play,” he said.
Since then, several other authors have written different versions.
County Seat chose Stokes’ version.
And it’s a treat.
Written in a southern dialect with rhyming couplets, Stokes turns the tale of “Wiley and the Hairy Man” into something Shakespeare and Doctor Seuss might have written had they spent a weekend romping through the swamps of the deep South together. 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.
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.
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.
Tickets are still available for this month’s special performances of “Wiley and the Hairy Man.” Show times are 7 p.m. each evening, but come early to enjoy a special picnic starting at 6 p.m. (included in the ticket price of $15). All proceeds go to help pay for the Japan trip. Call the County Seat Theater Company at 878-0071 for reservations.