By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Heading into its third show of the season, the FungusAmongus Players’ presentation of “Foxfire” takes place atop the Appalachian Mountains, where the ways of old remain as modern as ever.
The show was inspired by the “Foxfire Books,” a 12-volume compilation of student projects out of Rabun County, GA, which focus on preserving the traditional ways of Appalachian life. Eliot Wigginton was the teacher behind the endeavor, instructing his students in 1966 to interview the mountains’ residents and record their way of life, from hog dressing to building a log cabin to burial customs.
The books would later inspire well-known actor Hume Cronyn to write a single story about folk life in Rabun County. It is said Cronyn used the piece as a vehicle for his actress wife, Jessica Tandy. The couple would perform together in the 1987 cinematic version of the tale.
The central character in “Foxfire” is Annie Nations, a widow who resides alone at the top of the Appalachian Mountains. Her son, Dillard, a professional musician, is returning home to see his mother, as well as perform a local concert (which his mother has never seen).
Dillard’s time at home isn’t meant to be all fun, however. He also hopes to convince his mother to move in with his family in Florida. That won’t be easy, since Annie’s deep roots in the area make her reluctant to leave.
“It’s very character-driven,” stated director Dave Metcalf. “There isn’t a lot of plot to it. It’s all about these people: how they behave; what their life is like in this area, and so on.”
“And this is not that far removed,” he added. “1972, I think is when the books were published, but in Appalachia, it might as well be the 1700s it’s the way of life.”
To help explain some of Annie’s ties to the region, much of the show occurs in flashbacks between Annie and her late husband, Hector.
“I’m hoping that won’t be too confusing,” said Metcalf. “All we can really do up there is shift the lighting slightly to suggest [a flashback], ‘cause there’s no time for costume changes, and the actors are the ages they are. They can’t suddenly become teenagers, so it’s just a matter of the audience buying into that.”
Whether or not viewers will be able to follow the lighting cues to suggest a time change, they will likely be drawn into the story by the show’s set and stage space, which is on the third level of the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum.
“We’re performing upstairs in the Ergot Museum, because it’s more intimate,” explained Metcalf, “and all the wood and everything makes it more rustic and homier, which really brings out the flavor of the show.”
Although the museum will add to the show’s atmosphere, it being on the National Register of Historic Places has made set designers very limited to how much they can alter the site.
“You can’t pound a nail. You can’t screw a screw. You can’t mar the surface of it, and so, building set is a challenge,” said Metcalf.
“But our technicians are amazing,” he continued. “They have managed to put it all together and it’s sturdy as heck.”
Another unique challenge FungusAmongus faced with this show was finding the right guy to play Dillard.
“You have to have that musician who needs to pass himself off as a professional musician, and there’s even a segment where the band performs. So, for a long time, we were searching for somebody who could fill that role,” shared Metcalf. “It was like, oh-my-gosh, if we can’t find someone, we’re not going to be able to do this show.”
After much searching, someone finally emerged for the role: Kirk Asplin, member of the local band “Cowboys in Sneakers.” Some of the band members who will be performing alongside him include Andy Rosenquist, Craig Millerbernd, and Mark Keith.
Although he found the opportunity intriguing, Asplin was also apprehensive about it since he hasn’t acted since his sixth grade role as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“I mean, if we’re talking about challenge, this is a very substantial role in this play,” commented Metcalf. “But he’s doing a fabulous job. He has been really impressive, really dedicated, and works really, really, really hard to get it all down. He’s great. They all are. I’m just very pleased with what they’re doing and how it’s progressing.”
Metcalf continued, “That’s kind of the hallmark of our group: everybody really loves what they do. [For FungusAmongus] it’s not enough to have a show. They want to have a really amazing show.”
As with any production, the blood and sweat that goes into it isn’t coming from just the actors and director. It is also being drawn from the technical director (and actor, Ron Hungerford), the stage manager (Lisa Kotila), the lighting technician (Butch Amundsen), and the audio technician (Tom Nelson).
“It’s going to be a very rewarding show, I think,” said Metcalf, who hopes audiences will be reminded of their grandparents and how life has changed.
“Not necessarily for the better or the worse,” clarified Metcalf, “just changing times. Remembering what people’s heritage is, and what life was like.”
“I think it has an appeal to this community,” he added. “It’s moving; it’s emotional. Everyone needs a healthy introspective view every once in a while.”
Performance dates are Friday, March 2 and 9; and Saturday, March 3 at 7 p.m. Sunday showings, March 4 and 11, will take place at 2 p.m.
Saturday, March 10 will be a dinner theater performance, with glazed ham, coleslaw, roasted root vegetables, grits, buttermilk cornbread and apple cake with whipped cream on the menu. Coffee and water will be available, along with a cash bar provided by the Cokato-Dassel Lions Club.
Tickets can be purchased at fungusamongusplayers.org/tickets or at the Dassel History Center.