"Wiley and the Hairy Man"

A One-Act Play by Suzan Zeder

The Hairy Man from the swamp. William Andrew

Playwright Suzan Zeder has reimagined and refashioned this southern folktale into a gripping play. Wiley is the son of Mammy, the best conjurer in the county, and his biggest fear is that the magical and frightening Hairy Man will get him just like he got his father.

Wiley must confront his fears, meet the Hairy Man deep in the swamp, and trick him three times if he wants the Hairy Man to leave him alone for good.

Although Wiley is terrified, he eventually summons his courage and overcomes the Hairy Man.

In the original folktale, Wiley plays the first two tricks and Mammy succeeds in playing the third. Zeder changed the ending in her dramatization so that it is Wiley who plays all three tricks and triumphs against the Hairy Man. Zeder felt it would be a more satisfying and truer ending for Wiley if he found the solution and creativity within himself to succeed. As a result, Wiley traverses the entire archetypical “hero” arc from naïve and scared beginner to vetted and wise hero in this strong one-act play.

Zeder has included a sort of Greek Chorus as a major element within this play. The four chorus members move fluidly about the stage and represent everything from trees to vines to quicksand and logs to sticker bushes. They speak, sing, and perform many sound effects throughout the play. They link the dialogue and scenes together by creating a subtly spooky background soundtrack that underscores the play’s action and dialogue, reminding the audience of what they need to remember.

Their movements must be well-rehearsed, coordinated uses of bodies in a fashion similar to modern dance. They collaborate as one unit that comes together and separates in deliberate and meticulous ways. The magic in this play relies heavily on these chorus members.

Set. Wiley and the Hairy Man is set in a swamp.

As in many southern folktales and “non European” derived stories, the natural world plays as big a “character” as the people themselves. Wiley travels from the home he shares with Mammy at the edge of the swamp to deep within the swamp to the Hairy Man’s territory. The set designer must come up with imaginative ways to provide fast and seamless transitions to all locations without disrupting the flow of action or the poetic rhyme. He or she must also consider all the ways in which the chorus members might move in and around set pieces to contribute to illusions like quick sand and thickets of bushes.

In the production notes, Suzan Zeder writes that the stage should be set “with a gloomy and mysterious atmosphere,” with the actors already on stage when the audience enters. The set is as large a part of the magic of the production as the characters, chorus, and dialogue. See this video for one example of a set, sound, and chorus movements.

Although Wiley and the Hairy Man is at times intense and scary, it is an engaging story with a wonderful message. Susan Zeder does not “dumb down” the action and the play will keep all audience members – young and adult - entranced until the end.

Setting: Mammy’s House and the Swamp

Time: Any time.

Cast Size: This play can accommodate 8 actors. Suzan Zeder suggests four actors for the chorus, but notes that more may be used.

Male Characters: 3

Female Characters: 1

Characters that could be played by males or females: 4+


Wiley is a boy on the verge of adulthood. He has many things to learn, but he does not believe he can learn them. He feels that he is too young, incapable and scared to succeed.

Mammy is the best conjurer in the county. She believes her son has it within him to join her in being a skilled conjurer, but she is continually frustrated with his lack of focus and confidence.

Wiley’s Dog is his fierce, loyal, constant companion who will do anything to protect Wiley from the Hairy Man.

The Hairy Man is an evil conjurer from the deep swamp. He got Wiley’s father and he’s going to get Wiley too.

He can’t be “out magic-ed,” he can’t be “out fought,” he can’t be “out licked,” he can’t be “out bit”…but he can be "out tricked."

Chorus (4 suggested, more possible)

Content Issues: Negligible

Wiley and the Hairy Man is available to purchase for production through Dramatic Publishing. It is also part of the collection in the book Wish in One Hand Spit in the Other: A Collection of Plays by Suzan Zeder.

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Your Citation
Flynn, Rosalind. ""Wiley and the Hairy Man"." ThoughtCo, Oct. 13, 2015, thoughtco.com/wiley-and-the-hairy-man-2712905. Flynn, Rosalind. (2015, October 13). "Wiley and the Hairy Man". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/wiley-and-the-hairy-man-2712905 Flynn, Rosalind. ""Wiley and the Hairy Man"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/wiley-and-the-hairy-man-2712905 (accessed November 20, 2017).