Set in the rural Ware, Illinois, during the era of the Great Depression, Suzan Zeder’s play, “Mother Hicks” endeavors to answer the timeless question of “Why?” “Why do babies get sick and die?” “Why do natural disasters strike?” and “Why do people suffer through poverty, homelessness and abandonment?”
A 2009 Denver Post article about “Mother Hicks” by John Moore states, “When playwright Suzan Zeder was researching the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, she was struck by the number of oral histories that blame witches for natural disasters. Amid the poverty and economic desperation of the day, we’re told in her 1983 play, ‘Mother Hicks,’ ‘Not a sane person in this town would make light of witches.’”
Although the town members consider Mother Hicks a witch and the source of any and all inexplicable bad fortune, she, too, is a misunderstood loner who has suffered the loss of her infant daughter and has secluded herself to deal with her pain and heal animals and occasionally a human. Another town outcast, who is deaf and mute, Tuc, is the beneficiary of her services and finds a home with Mother Hicks.
Morgan High Drama Teacher and director of the play, Jana Timpson, notes “The main characters in the play all struggle with finding a place to belong, loss and feelings of being misunderstood or overlooked. Each character navigates these themes in unique and beautiful ways that have magically made it in to the fabric of my consciousness and my life.”
In addition to Mother Hicks (Emily Ferrin) and Tuc (Noah Nalder), Girl (Lily Long) rounds out the cast of main characters. Girl’s mother abandoned her as a baby, and she been in many foster homes. As the play begins, she is being left behind by one foster family and trying to fit in with a new family. Girl gets it in her mind that Mother Hicks is her long-lost mother and decides that she (Girl) should become a witch like her and injures herself in the process. Tuc takes Girl to Mother Hicks who heals her and tries to help her find her name.
Tuc speaks throughout the play in sign language accompanied by a chorus member who voices Tuc’s signs. For the play, Nalder, who had no previous experience with American Sign Language (ASL), had six weeks to learn all his lines in sign. MHS ASL teacher Holly George recorded videos of all of Nalder’s lines so he could watch them and learn the sign language. “It came down to the wire,” Nalder reported. “I learned them just in time, but Mrs. George came to the play one night and she said that she could understand all of my lines and she even praised my facial expressions. I was excited”
“It was hard to act without talking,” Nalder explained. “Acting without talking makes is hard to portray the character with equal energy that I am accustomed to, but I learned so much preparing for this role and if someone were to approach me now and start signing, I would be able to talk back now.” Nalder’s Tuc signing added a powerful element to the play and added an extra layer of texture to the production.
Lily Long, in her first leading role, brought the right combination of strength, defiance and vulnerability to the role of Girl. In one of Long’s favorite scenes, around the dining table with Girl’s new foster family, she is told by her foster father, Hosiah Ward (Tyson Turner), to not speak with her mouth full. Girl proceeds to spit her food into her hand, share her opinion, and then pops the food back into her mouth.
Long remarked, “I had to practice this scene a number of times to desensitize myself, so I could spit the food in my hand without getting distracted.”
After the final curtain fell, Long, who hopes to continue her theater career next year at SUU or Dixie State College, commented, “It is a bittersweet experience to have the play over. I put so much into it, and it was such an amazing experience acting in my first leading role.”
“This role really taught me how to accept people and to be kind to those who might be different,” Long elaborated. “I also learned to appreciate those who express themselves differently like Tuc did with sign language.”
In addition to the great work that the actors did on stage, endless hours were put in by the directors as well as technical, lighting and stage crews. Sarah Dougall, assistant director, noted that she “learned so much about becoming a better actor and how different acting skills affect different genres.”
“As I worked with the actors to help them portray certain scenes or feelings, it helped me realize how to be a better actor while I was learning how to direct a show,” she explained.
Her favorite scene of the play and one of the more challenging to direct, she described, was the final scene of Act I when Girl is going through her improvised “ritual” to become a witch and the chorus and the townspeople are blaming everything on Mother Hicks. “It took so much effort from the actors. Everyone had to be coordinated. Lily was doing her part, the townspeople were all describing their fear of Mother Hicks, the chorus was commenting, and Noah was signing. In this scene, the emotions of each character crescendos, and it shows the intensity of feelings in the show,” she expounded.
Overall, Dougall loved her experience and is now looking forward to auditioning for Weber State’s Theater program where she plans to minor in musical theater and major in nursing.
Directory Timpson had high praise for her cast and crew. “I am grateful that the kids were willing to go on this journey with me and try new things. As we have worked on this play as Play Productions cast, I have been blown away by my cast and crew and their willingness to fully tackle characters with enthusiasm, insight and creativity.”
MHS’s production of “Mother Hicks” ran four nights (Feb. 15, 16, 17 & 19) and included a cast of 17 with a crew of a dozen or more. The beautiful era sets were constructed under the direction of Ms. Timpson by the Stage Tech 1 and 2 classes. Juan Diego Catholic High School, who will be performing the play in March, assisted with props and costume. In addition to the talented students, several parents, teachers, volunteers, friends and other industry professionals worked to help make this production possible.
Congratulations to the MHS Theater Department on another great production!