Review: “The Folklore Project”

Emma Tanner, News Editor

The Cinematic Arts and Theatre Department’s fall show, “The Folklore Project,” debuted on Oct. 6 in the George S. Lindsay Theatre. 

The show marks director Abigail Dillard’s first show at the university. She was asked to create a piece for her debut and wanted to focus on the area she was new to, Florence. The local community explained to her some of the more prominent folk tales surrounding the Shoals. She and her creative team decided to settle on an anthology-like series of stories surrounding the area. The creative team and Dillard used a method called devised theatre in which the team collaborates to create a show. Auditions were held in late August.

“The Folklore Project” is described as “a folktale that incorporates seven theatrical stories inspired by North Alabama folklore.” The show follows the character of Elsie (Star Corder), a young woman from the ambiguous 1800s. 

She and her sister Lillie (Ivy Johnson) reside in Florence, Ala. The girls discover a journal on their family’s dock revealing the existence of people who can hear the river’s voice (dubbed the “honored ones”). All of the honored ones, save for one, have been wiped out by a jealous king who wishes to harness their power. The girls deduce that the survivor has to be their mother, as they also hear the river. 

Their excitement is short lived, however, as Lillie is ripped away from Elsie and assumed to be dead. Elsie’s grief over her lost sister leads her on a journey through time. She meets an assortment of unique characters who all serve to teach her a lesson: Annie (Kennedy Edwards), Chuck (Jarrod Stocks), Marcus (Zachary Baldwin), Sylvie (Samantha Davis), Julianna (Ella Neal) and Florence (Ivy Johnson). 

With the small cast, each actor (save for Corder) also plays an ensemble role. Both Corder and Johnson do a good job of portraying their characters. Being a constant throughout the show, Corder specifically is able to show off her skill. Though Elsie seems to lack a distinct personality, Corder is still able to make her a likable protagonist. Johnson’s scenes are rather brief, but she is a charismatic performer and her characters have a Southern charm to them.

The show had a likability to it, however the storyline was somewhat muddled. It took me a minute to figure out what exactly was happening. It was never fully explained how exactly Elsie managed to time travel, which is one of many plot holes. The characters also do not seem to intertwine other than their connection (however brief) with Elsie. 

Annie is the first character introduced. She is a young woman who stops at a store on Pine Street. There she meets the store clerk, who she eventually marries. The two have a daughter named Elizabeth. Elizabeth (Ivy Johnson) goes on to follow in her mother’s footsteps, as she meets her future husband while working at the little store. Elizabeth’s daughter then goes on to attend UNA. Elsie remains throughout the storyline, posing as a close family friend of Annie.

I originally assumed the location was what would connect these stories, but the thought was dashed with the introduction of astronomer Chuck. Chuck’s storyline strays away from the Florence setting and is instead at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. 

The story seems to stick out, as it is the only one that is not in the Shoals area. His is one of the more comical stories, with Neal arriving on stage in a fake mustache and oversized lab coat. It was the segment I found myself laughing the most at. Stocks portrays his character perfectly, especially considering the show is the freshman’s first UNA performance. His performance especially stuck out to me, as he seemed immersed in the character.

The third story is Marcus. Marcus is a Vietnam veteran who feels as though he has not done much with his life. It is his 60th birthday, but he solemnly sits on the dock. Elsie creeps into the background, trying to slyly steal the journal that is in his boat. Marcus decides to take the boat out on the turbulent water, citing that he has never done anything adventurous in his life. He is eventually struck down by lightning. 

The story takes the audience back to Florence on a similar dock to the one Elsie grew up on. It is not confirmed as to whether it is the same exact one or not. Baldwin was able to alternate between heartfelt soliloquy and hilarious comments. He really shined in this particular performance and I was happy to see him solo.

Sylvie is the fourth character introduced. She is a 10-year-old girl that is confined to her room due to a case of the flu. However, she is excited by the fact that she can play with the older children. She decides to take a chance and asks to hang out with them. Elsie is among the group of playing children. 

Davis does an excellent job of playing a small girl with big anxieties. I saw a lot of myself in the character, as I was once an awkward preteen girl with a desperate need to fit in. Her story was relatively short compared to some of the others, but it was a cute one nonetheless.

The fifth character is Julianna. Julianna comforts Elsie after her journal is stolen by two boys. She introduces Elsie to the Rosebud Girls, a ragtag group of girls who relax and unwind with music and cigarettes. They initiate Elsie to the group by performing a whimsical dance and are eventually successful in getting the journal. 

The Rosebud girls had their own unique feel to their story. I honestly would have loved more elaboration on them, but within the bounds of the story, it was alright to see it in only a segment. They were charming. Neal played a good ring leader. She does a good job of playing particularly feisty characters (as she did in Little Women last spring), so she shines in those roles. 

The last — and perhaps most important — character is Florence, whose story takes place in the 1920s. She discovers the journal on her father’s dock. She recites the mantra that Lillie and Elsie recited at the beginning of the play. 

When Elsie arrives, she explains that she is looking for her journal and desperately needs her help finding it. Florence lies and says she does not have it but will look for it. When Elsie lies down to rest, Florence reads the journal and discovers the stories written within it. She also finds that she can hear the river. Elsie awakes and finds her with the journal. Through deduction, the girls discover that Florence is actually Lillie. She and Elsie team up and take down the King (played by Baldwin).

All of the actors portray their respective characters well. There were a few instances of tripping over words, but it could easily be amounted to first performance jitters. You can truly tell the actors feel a connection to the characters, which could be due to the collaborative process that went into the writing.