Imagination stage brings the sights, sounds, and images alive of the backwoods where a young boy must face his biggest fears of life.
Ian Anthony Coleman is perfectly cast as the sleepy, reticent Wiley prone to having nightmares about a huge scary Hairy Man who lives in the backwoods. A first reaction could be, well, he’s not real, like the boogie man, so Wiley will just find a way to get over it, right? That is until we actually see him, or it, and O.M.G, what a scary hairy contraption he is.
Everyone can relate to wanting to lounge around instead of get up and do chores. Especially if the chores involve heading out, crossing dangerous terrain, including quick sand, and carrying an ax to cut down a tree for wood. But Wiley’s Mom gets him up and out, admonishes him to be careful, and off he goes with his trusty hound dog.
As can be imagined, Wiley’s deepest, darkest fears come true when he faces the scary Hairy Man, who already snatched Wiley’s father, and makes it clear he’s out to get Wiley, too. Wiley escapes by climbing a tree, but the Hairy Man lets him know that he’ll get what he wants, eventually. What’s a poor scared Wiley to do?
In the final showdown, Wiley watches helplessly when his beloved dog get turned to stone. When his precious Mom also falls under the beast’s spell, well, that pushes Wiley to the take the ultimate stand to fend for his life. If he can trick the strong, smelly, powerful Hairy Man three times, the monster will be banished from his life and dreams forever—but, how can a quiet, reserved 10-year old take that on? The Hairy Man is treacherous, bigger, stronger and smarter than Wiley could ever be.
The story presents the age-old dilemma of coming face to face with one’s biggest fears—even the scary dangerous ones—in an entertaining story with fun characters, great music, and valuable life-lessons.
Coleman plays Wiley with sweet irresistible charm and tender expressions. When he walks through the audience seeking help and advice, we all become his best buds and root for him. He’s got great chemistry with the other characters, and no one could ask for a better best friend than Dog, played with bouncing enthusiasm by the remarkable Rafael Sebastian. Dog is actually the saving grace for Wiley and his Mom, since — as everybody knows—that’s one thing that gives the Hairy Man the willies, a dog. Our imaginations work overtime while we accept the actors’s back and forth transitions from wagging dog to violinist in the jug band, sometimes so quickly that the dog is playing the violin and we’re absolutely okay with that!
I caught Theresa Cunningham’s award winning rendition of Sofia in Color Purple at Toby’s Dinner Theatre several years ago, and she brings her same theatrical flair and penetrating gaze to Momma. She also gets to sing a tune, so that’s a real treat. As the soothsayer Conjure Woman, she consults the tea leaves swirling in the pot to find out what’s going on, while being tenderly mindful of Wiley. Caring for his safety, she nudges him to learn some conjure spells and take a stand for his own good– only then will he be able to eventually make his way in the world. Cunningham infuses her character with overall mindfulness to attend to other’s needs, reflecting her artistry and maturity.
A talented ensemble of musicians (Kevin Collins, Matthew Schleigh, and Shanta Parasuraman) not only play upright bass, mandolin/fiddle and harmonica, but also create the memorable sights and sounds of all the scenes in breathtaking ways—kudos to director Kathryn Chase Bryer for stretching fearlessly using expansive imagination. Their movements, nicely choreographed by Elena Day, depict household objects, the swamp critters, and even the elements. Samina Vieth’s set is a work of art where netting functions as tree branches for climbing, while lighting design by Cory Ryan Frank bathes the set in a warm glow. Sound by Christopher Baine includes swamp gurgles, musical interludes, and the giant guy’s loud (and scary) entrances.
WILEY AND THE HAIRY MAN
Feb 11 – March 15
4908 Auburn Avenue
Bethesda , MD
1 hour, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $12 – $20
Saturdays and Sundays
Tickets or call 301-280-1660
The puppet designers worked wonders creating a frighteningly larger than life monster-man with a huge paper mache mask face, long fringy yarn for the hair, expanding torso, and big green feet like boots to stomp around, like Yikes! Vaughn Irving slips into the giant feet, waves a huge appendage arm while another ensemble member moves the other, and speaks with a booming gorgeous melodic bass voice dripping with sinister and ominous intentions for Wiley. Have that thing on the prowl for you and see how well you sleep at night.
Costumes by Katie Touart look authentically ragged and threadbare with overalls and patched up jeans, while Conjure woman Mama sports an apron and bright head wrap over dangling locks for full effect.
Music (Harry Pickens, lyrics by Pickens and Suzan Zeder) acknowledges how easy it would be succumb to your fears and stay tucked under the covers. The song “He’s bigger, stronger than me” applies universally in so many situations you’ll find yourself humming the tune long after the show ends.
Wiley and the Hairy Man at Imagination Stage showcases a terrific cast and creative designers who share a timeless tale for today’s audiences. Thanks to their efforts, the magic of full blown imagination runs wild from the beginning enticing everyone to tap into their inner child and take on the big scary beasts of their own.
Wiley and the Hairy Man by Suzan Zeder, Music by Harry Pickens . Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.