Sunday, December 09, 2007

REV: Wiley & the Hairy Man

It's funny that over the course of a week i travel out of town to four shows, and two of them manage to be about old southeastern folktales involving conjurers and the separation of two worlds. This weekend it was Wimberley High School's Dark of the Moon (see below), last weekend it was Lon Morris College's Wiley & the Hairy Man.

After some hairy decision-making on a long trip out of the Hill Country i ended up in Jacksonville last Saturday, which is actually where i'd planned to be all along on Saturday, only i didn't think it would happen for a bunch of coincidentals that i'm not going to waste a long time explaining.

I went to see Lon Morris' production because one of the leads was Mathis Lidiak who recently understudied the lead in my production of The Drawer Boy and this represented my first chance to see him at his new school, in his new found vocation (he was in Fiddler on the Roof earlier in the season, but i couldn't get away for being in a show here).

Turns out it was a double-cast show, and the time i expected to see Mathis on stage was a performance of the other cast. So, what the heck, i watched that one, and then returned to see Mathis' turn.

Excellent shows both. I guess i didn't really know what to expect, and had dropped my expectations somewhat -- what is billed as a children's show, in short format, at a small college . . .

Well, i was stunned. The set was unique -- an in-the-round built on the stage, with overhead lights and cargo net drops that were perfect for eliciting the swampy mood.

Costuming was phenomenal, with the opening characters decked out in camouflage and arrayed so that it was difficult to tell they weren't mannequins.

And the shows -- each cast was blocked uniquely, and each had its own style and mood -- owe much to the vision of Toni Wright, the director, who quite obviously allowed each group to invent its own character. Mathis said that one is known as the Disney version, the other as the Rocky Horror version. And that says something about them, but they each carry the weightiness of the subject well, and well maybe the Disney label is a bit light. But there was a free-flowing bounciness to the first group's show and a foreboding heft to the second.

Mathis was remarkable. For a kid who just discovered a love of theatre some six months ago, who was quiet and tentative this summer, if a perfect reader of lines and plumber of motivations, he has jumped light years. For those who have seen him here, you might first be stunned by his vocal power and range, but secondly, and this was most surprising (and wonderful) to me, the character, Wiley, he portrayed was not Mathis. He completely subsumed the kid we know, and became this wild child of the swamps. He was unrecognizable. And stunning.

In the set of plays were two fantastic Hairy Men, two wonderful Mama's, great dog performances, a whole other Wiley, and the sensational choruses of both groups. I certainly had preferences here and there, but across the board the casts were excellent -- it's easy to see why two groups were cast.

They'll be touring this production in the spring, and i hope they'll pass through here with the show. If so, i'll post.

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