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"The Jack Tales" Production Delights Audience

By Lydia McGee
On November 16, 2017

Jack in “Jack and the Witch” runs across an enchanted mill.
Photo By Lydia McGee

The word “hillbilly” might evoke a negative reaction from most people, but this semester, the Concord theater department focused on just how much this is not so. On Nov. 8, Concord University’s theater department premiered its fall production “The Jack Tales.” A creative retelling of old Appalachian folk stories with the classic fairytale character Jack, the show featured a cast of 19 and had a nearly full house each performance night, and illustrated just how resourceful “hillbillies” could be.

    The lively ensemble cast included veteran Concord stage talents Brianna Duckworth, Layla Gilpin, Kristen Knight, Amberly Lester, Megan Perdue, Maizy Landreth, Nathaniel George, Brandon Thomas, Katie Stowers, and Shanice Cook, with cameos from Stan Tucker and Jack Sheffler. Newcomers included Caleb Marcellais, Cameron White, Caleb Zopp, Jimmy Wilburn, Hannah Gates, and Elisha Fraley.

    Closing night, playwright R. Rex Stephenson visited Concord to see the production. Though the cast took much creative liberty with the show, making it different each night, Stephenson was delighted and called it a “wonderful show.”

    Told by two down-to-earth narrators, the show consistently broke the fourth wall, inviting the audience to directly participate in the series of stories and sing along with the sometimes-emotional songs that punctuated the action. In act one, “Jack Fear-No-Man” saw Jack removing three pesky giants from the King of West Virginia’s land; “Jack’s First Job” included several moments prompting audience involvement as Jack fights his weak intellect to bring home his earnings; and “Wicked John” told the story of “Jack” and how he outsmarted the Devil.

    In act two, “Jack and the Old Witch” featured a female Jack portrayed by Brianna Duckworth and “Jack and Ol’ Greasy Beard” closed the stories with a high-action sendoff.

    Dr. Tim Mainland and Professor Maggie Jusiel along with actor Caleb Zopp accompanied the entire production with live music, continuing the close cooperation with the Communication Arts and Media and Fine Arts departments. This live accompaniment was also done in last semester’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” musical production.

    Preparation for this production began at the beginning of the semester, but due to the West Virginia Theater Conference’s visit in October, the cast and crew were required to craft and work with an entirely removable set.

    Both adults and children were easily entertained, as the largely improvised show both hid subliminal mature jokes for the benefit of older audiences while entertaining the younger audiences with over-the-top slapstick and exaggerated comedy.

    Though the stories are comedic and played for laughs, Director Karen Vuranch points out their subtle subtext. “Underlying the stories is a quiet political message,” she states in her director’s letter. “The mountain man (or woman) is resilient and kind and clever. 

    These stories celebrate Appalachian resourcefulness…They are not about barefoot hillbillies making moonshine in the hills, but show a wise and irrepressible attitude toward life.”

    “This cast has been quick-witted and brilliant and I am so very proud of them,” writes Vuranch.

    Concord will be taking some of these stories and their cast to various schools across the state in the near future. More information about this initiative is forthcoming.

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