Folktales. By R. Rex Stephenson.
Cast: 5m., 5w., flexible.
The six short plays¸ each 10 to 20 minutes long¸ may be presented singly or in any combination. The Blue Ridge Mountain folktales were collected and dramatized by Dr. R. Rex Stephenson at Ferrum College¸ Virginia¸ where he toured the plays with a company of his students—usually five men and five women. From 1975 to 1991¸ the Jack Tale Players performed the stories 1¸325 times to more than half a million people of all ages in 34 states and in England. “We have played to audiences as large as 3¸000 people and as small as 12¸” Stephenson said. Jack¸ the teenage protagonist of most of the tales¸ is the universal underdog who outwits “upper-dogs” like robbers¸ giants¸ witches¸ devils and big brothers. The tales are: Jack Fear-No-Man. Jack wins a $10¸000 reward from the king of Virginia for conquering three giants. Jack and the Witch’s Tale. Jack defeats a witch with kindness. Foolish Jack. Jack is outwitted by some sharp traders. Jack and the Robbers. Jack and some runaway animals scare the meanness out of a band of thieves. Jack and Ol’ Greasy Beard. Jack outsmarts his older brothers and catches a thief and rescues a girl in distress. Wicked John and the Devil. The meanest man on earth bedevils the devil.
These Jack Tales can be played by all women¸ all men¸ or any combination. “I’ve never had anyone worry about whether Jack was a boy or a girl¸” Stephenson said. “I always use girls to play the little devils in Wicked John.” Girls have played kings and devils; boys have played old women and mothers. Although the Ferrum College troupe introduces each performance with mountain music and traditional ballads like “Barbara Allen” and “In the Pines¸” played on mostly homemade instruments (washboard¸ washtub bass¸ wood block¸ spoons¸ a jug and a cowbell)¸ no music is required.