By M. SCOTT MORRIS / NEMS Daily Journal
The stage at Tupelo High School’s Fine Arts Building has been transformed into a swamp. Fabricated vines sneak around rocks and wrap around trees to help the THS Theatre Company tell a scary little story that opens on Thursday.
“’Wiley and the Hairy Man’ is based on an African-American folk tale,” said Allana Austin, director. “It’s a fairy tale about a young boy who’s trying to defeat the Hairy Man.”
It would be a difficult challenge for a 10-year-old to overcome a full-grown man, but Wiley makes the job harder on himself. He’s let his imagination run wild until he’s ruled by phantom fears both night and day.
“There are funny moments,” said Lexie Smith, a 16-year-old junior who plays Wiley, “but when I first read it, I found it kind of creepy. I got scared, kind of, reading it. It’s creepy, but there’s a funny way about it.”
Peyton Rish, 17, a junior, is trying to tread the line between creepiness and comedy as he brings the Hairy Man to life.
“I try to comedy this up, I guess, so he’s not scary all the time,” Rish said. “That’s when (Austin) gets mad at me.”
The Hairy Man represents the sum of Wiley’s fears. The moral of the play is probably as old as storytelling.
“In the end, he learns he has the power to defeat his fears all by himself,” Austin said.
The play includes special lighting and sound effects to deepen the swamp experience, as well as other touches to help tell Wiley’s story.
“Sometimes, we’ll have a piece of blue cloth as a river,” Austin said. “We have a silver piece of cloth to represent snow.”
A seven-member chorus performs a variety of roles in the play.
“They are the spirits of the swamp,” Austin said. “Sometimes, they’re frogs. Sometimes, they’re a table and chairs. Sometimes, they’re Mammy’s conjuring pot.”
In the beginning of the show, the swamp spirits give voice to the fears that trouble Wiley’s sleep. They are creepy and scary, and part of what makes “Wiley and the Hairy Man” a unique experience.
“It’s a really interesting play,” Rish said. “I’ve never seen anything done like this before. It’s nothing I’ve seen Tupelo High School do before.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.