Lights, action, magic!

The cast and crew of "Wiley and the Hairy Man" hit the road Wednesday morning, taking their one-hour play on the road to Salina, Kan., for a six-state regional community-theater competition.

Kirk Davis (left) and Joel Soukkala of the County Seat Theater pack up wardrobe and props Tuesday evening as they prepare to head out for a six-state regional community theater competition in Salina, Kan. The local troupe was one of two in the state to qualify for the honor. Jana Peterson/

The cast and crew of "Wiley and the Hairy Man" hit the road Wednesday morning, taking their one-hour play on the road to Salina, Kan., for a six-state regional community-theater competition.

It is an unusual play. First comes a growl in the darkness, then 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 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 g'nash his teeth," the narrator/tree/woodland creature tells the audience when the dancing stops.

County Seat Theater veteran Jim Jurek - who traveled with the cast and crew to the statewide competition in Fergus Falls, Minn. in March - is optimistic about the show's chances.

"They did so well [in Fergus Falls]," said Jurek. "The show went perfectly and the audience absolutely loved it. Besides themselves, they [the other theater groups] all wanted us to win because the show is so unique."


For those who missed the local performances by the local community theater, "Wiley and the Hairy Man" tells the tale of how the Hairy Man wants to make young Wiley his next victim and how Wiley and his Mammy outsmart the Hairy Man. Although these three are the only named characters, in this play the chorus members ­- who morph from trees to creatures to dogs like they're made of primeval ooze - are on the stage every second, dancing, standing as trees hung with moss, they even provide much of the ambient sounds for the production.

At state, the show was one of two to win the top prize and advance to regionals. The crew of theater veterans also brought home awards for outstanding achievement in directing, scenic design, costume and makeup designing, sound design, lighting design, mime coaching and ensemble performance.

Director Cheryl Kramer-Milder has more than the obvious reason for hoping her actors will turn in another flawless performance in Salina. Her 89-year-old mother and her niece are driving four hours from Syracuse, Neb., to see the show, plus the County Seat Theater will compete with the Lofte Community Theater of Weeping Water, Neb., where Kramer-Milder got her start in theater.

"I don't think my mom's seen a show of mine in 30 years, since I left the Lofte," Kramer-Milder said, then added with a chuckle. "I just hope they don't jinx us. I'm sure my mom is going to look at this play and say 'What the heck was that?'"

No worries, said supporter Mike Rosen, who is traveling with Jurek to Kansas to watch the competition. The troupe has been consistently solid in their performances.

"I was so proud [at state]," he said. "I know what they've gone through - I was in the first play here - and I'm very proud of what this theater has accomplished. I was a little tearful too, because it was so well done."

Kramer-Milder is also optimistic.

"There's just something about this Hairy Man show," she said. "It's something magical."


If County Seat wins the regional competition, the cast and crew of "Wiley and the Hairy Man" will head to a national competition in Rochester, New York, in June. Cast members include Ruthie Zissos as Wiley, Rick Breuer as Mammy, Kirk Davis as Hairy Man and creature chorus members Joel and Jennifer Soukkala, Aleyse Chapin and Kris Nelson.

The Cloquet actors perform second to last in Kansas, at 7 p.m. Saturday night. Keep an eye on the Pine Journal website this weekend to see results.

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