Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wetumpka Depot: "Wiley and the Hairy Man"

Set in a swamp along the Tombigbee, Jack Stokes' Wiley and the Hairy Man -- one of several print and stage versions of the popular folk story -- is currently brought to life at the Wetumpka Depot by director William Harper's talented ensemble.

In about one uninterrupted hour's playing time [just right for the target audience of children], rendered in Stokes' charming rhymed verse, punctuated by the sound of nighttime crickets and other spooky effects, and with inventive and colorful "swamp creature" costumes by Sherida Black, this show appeals to children of all ages.

Narrated by a chorus of "swamp creatures" [Jacob Alldredge, Layne Holley, Mary Katherine Moore, and Cheryl Pointer] who also provide many of the play's central sound effects & secondary characters, the story focusses on Wiley's [Merelee Robinson] survival in fooling the Hairy Man [Paul J. Travitsky] three times in order to escape his wrath. -- The often repeated warning that the Hairy Man "got your pappy...and he gonna get you" tests Wiley's nerve and wit.

Wiley is helped and taught by his Mammy [Cindy Beasley -- delightfully zany in her Depot debut], the best conjure woman around, whose common-sense advice allows Wiley to develop his own abilities and overcome his fears. -- Though Mr. Travitsky's towering presence is scary enough indeed [the Hairy Man is, after all, everyone's archetypal "boogey-man], here he is more frightening in imagination than in the flesh -- and he "sho' can't stand no dogs...everybody knows that"!

So each of Wiley's scary confrontations with the Hairy Man, deep in the swamp and at night, is tempered by humorous dialogue, homespun philosophy, and guaranteed success as warranted by this play's instructive purposes: overcoming fears, self-awareness, family bonds, and the true meaning of courage & friendship.

Ms. Robinson is securing her place in local theatre. This versatile actress, a Faulkner University graduate and veteran performer with numerous acting credits [most recently as Judah in the Depot's excellent production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and as the show-stopping dead-pan Goth "signing interpreter" of "The Rose" in A Wedding from Hell] capitalizes on her comic abilities, stage generosity, unswerving energy & commitment, and complete confidence in each of the roles she has created, bringing to Wiley's audiences a comfort in realizing we are in good hands.