Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SVSU's "Wiley and the Hairy Man" a perfect show for children

review by Janet I. Martineau
If ever there was a perfect production with which to introduce a child to theater, it is SVSU’s currently playing “Wiley and the Hairy Man.”
Directed by Richard B. Roberts Jr., this show oozes with atmosphere, attention to detail and  creativity galore -- making it one of the best, if not THE best, children’s theater production ever at the college  ... although “The Hobbit” still ranks way up there.
I attended one of the student presentations and the kids were sooo quiet and attentive, sooo responsive to it. A remarkable accomplishment in this day and age. And I, well, I was just as attentive and responsive.
Two public performances remain -- at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday (Oct. 12-13). Make sure you attend, even if you are an adult.
Set in a mysterious southern swamp, it tells the story of a young boy, his lazy dog, his conjuring mother and this bad guy trickster  named Hairy Man. If the kid can find a way to trick the trickster three times, then he will forever vanish and threaten the scared kid no more.
Ya, there is a moral to the story, a script telling youngsters kids to overcome their fears with their wits. But basically it’s just a great piece of theater full of invention, humor and some mildly scary stuff. 
Before the play ever starts, these eight black-clad, faceless creatures are on the darkened set -- up its trees, on the ground, undulating and making weird noises amid taped noises of real-life critters.
And then as the play runs, they become tables and stoves, alligators and snakes (thanks to clever costuming and black light), sticker bushes and rocks, a rhyme-speaking chorus, and with their voices sound effects like cooking food, wind, gulps and whispers.
That these eight are primarily freshman bodes well for the next four years of theater at SVSU because they are magnificent.
So too is freshman  Lexee Longwell as the conjuring mother (she knows how to project and speak with a rock-solid dialect).  And freshman Blake Mazur is hilarious as the dog who is lazy...until he catches sight of Hairy Man and takes barking and growing pursuit, often bringing back some part of the poor man.
Rustin Myers as the hunching  Hairy Man delivers just the right amount of menace -- not too scary, since this is a children’s production, but just enough  to keep things interesting in a Halloween kind of way.
Lanky Raheem Saltmarshall is physically effective as Wiley, in what is a highly physical role, but sometimes does not project and/or mumbles. Small complaint.
Kudos galore to Roberts for his incredible direction and sound design, to scenic designer Jerry Dennis for the swampy atmosphere, to Elise Shannon for the fabulous and inventive costuming, to lighting designer Tom Klonowski for added atmosphere.
For more information or to order tickets, call 989-964-4261.

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