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Jeffery Neil Wacaster Professor Daniel Inouye Fine Arts: Theatre 6 October 2010 “Wiley and the Hairy

Man:” A Hairy Story with an Important Lesson On September 24, 2010, I had the privilege of viewing Suzan Zeder’s play, “Wiley and the Hairy Man.” Its purpose is showing its audience how to face their fears. The OBU production team focused on communicating Wiley’s fear of the Hairy Man and how he overcame it. Principally, the team accomplished this through the scenery, sound effects and lighting, as well as the performances of Lauren Linton, Cortnee Stewart, and Jacob Watson. “Wiley and the Hairy Man” has a very unusual storyline. Wiley is terrified of the Hairy Man, because he drowned Wiley’s Pappy in the swamp. Wiley’s Mammy, “the best conjurer in the whole southwest county,” tries to protect Wiley with magic spells, but Wiley will not give up his fear. When Wiley goes into the swamp, he takes his dog with him, “because the Hairy Man can’t stand no dogs.” Wiley meets the Hairy Man, but defeats him with magic (and some help from his faithful hound). Upon returning to the hut, Mammy says Wiley will have to go back to confront the Hairy Man alone. However, if Wiley can trick the Hairy Man three times, he will leave for good. Through magic spells and cunning, Wiley and Mammy thrice hoodwink the Hairy Man, causing Wiley to overcome his fear. In truth, I did not understand Zeder’s intended message in “Wiley and the Hairy Man” until I read a quote from her book, Wish in One Hand Spit in the Other: A Collection of Plays by Suzan Zeder. In that work, Zeder states that her purpose was to show children how to address

their fears.1 Now I can see that that theme was an undercurrent running throughout the entire production. In fact, I think that the main goal of the OBU theatre production team was to help the audience to empathize with the fear Wiley experiences throughout the play. The team effectively used the spectacle and the actors’ performances to convey Wiley’s feelings. The scenery and sound effects manipulated the emotions of the audience quite well. In particular, the swamp chorus very successfully projected the mood for each scene. Because of their unique role as props, I classify the actors playing the swamp chorus as part of the scenery rather than as characters. When they lay as if dead in the hut, I think they symbolized the fear Wiley has; his fear that the Hairy Man will come to kill him. In addition, the swamp chorus made most of the sound effects. These added a three-dimensional, visceral feel to the play. The ominous backdrop during Wiley’s dream at the beginning of the show is an excellent example of three separate theatre elements working together to create a mood. The swamp noises, dark, scary trees and the corpse-like forms sprawled on the stage have the potential to make the audience shiver with fear. From a psychological point of view, the spooky scenery and sound effects were unconditioned stimuli, which caused the audience to react with an unconditioned response, fright. The low lighting of the stage was particularly important here because, in my experience, the fear of the dark is a very common unconditioned stimulus in children. The OBU production team did an excellent job of pairing all these frightening factors with the stimulus they wanted to condition. At the same time, the concept of the Hairy Man was introduced by the swamp chorus in a scary way. By doing this, the OBU production team effectively conditioned the audience to fear the Hairy Man. Lauren Linton could then start her performance with an audience that shared emotional common ground with Wiley.

Lauren Linton’s acting in “Wiley” was fair. To me, she did not seem comfortable with her role. Particularly disappointing was the way she portrayed Wiley’s fear. She put very little emotion into her performance. For example, when she saw the Hairy Man for the first time, she merely stated, “The Hairy Man!” in a voice which did not contain as much fear as Wiley surely would have experienced. In addition, when Mammy asks Wiley to repeat “Hello, Hairy Man,” Linton used the same unconvincing vocal inflection each time she said the line. I realize that these mistakes can be partially accounted for by the fact that Wiley is such a young character, and that he would not experience fear in the same way I would. In addition, “Wiley and the Hairy Man” is a children’s play, and thus the team did not want to turn it into a horror show. Nonetheless, in Wiley’s case we are dealing with a very deep seated phobia of the Hairy Man, and Linton’s performance simply did not convey that. Courtnee Stewart played two roles which helped accentuate Wiley’s fear. First, she walked onto the stage during Wiley’s dream in a black cloak. I think that this part of the dream symbolizes Wiley’s fear of the Hairy Man, portraying him as a grim reaper bent on murder. This was another important element which conditioned the audience to fear the Hairy Man. Secondly, throughout the main part of the production Courtnee pushed Wiley to overcome his fear. This shows how we all need mentors to help us overcome our fears. Jacob Watson combined a gruff voice with incredible acting talent to make the Hairy Man quite scary, but also funny and believable. As the object of Wiley’s fear, the Hairy Man symbolizes the phobias that we all have. When the Hairy Man’s is defeated and his wig comes off, it shows that our fears are not as bad as we think. Personally, I think that “Wiley and the Hairy Man” is a masterful combination of an

engrossing story with a helpful lesson about overcoming fear. I have been finding out about my own fears lately. Specifically, I learned from Rich Dad, Poor Dad 2 that I must not cling to job security out of fear. Like Wiley, I need to overcome my fear to become successful. When “Wiley and the Hairy Man” came to an end, I had a confident, positive outlook, and my life felt less “hairy.”

Endnotes: Pearson-Davis, Susan, ed. Wish in One Hand Spit in the Other: A Collection of Plays by Suzan Zeder. Anchorage, 1990. qtd. in Department of Theatre. California State University, Bakersfield, 2007. Web. 04 Oct. 2010. <http://www.csub.edu/~kkruszka/Kam%20Web/Wiley%20Study %20Guide_pub.pdf>.
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Kiyosaki, Robert T. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not! unknown: Business Plus, 2010. Print.
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