Appalachian family drama on stage

Ballad Hunter, a play about three generations of Appalachian women, will be on stage Nov. 12–14 and 19–21 at 7:30 p.m. in the England Theatre at Northwestern College.

Karen Bohm Barker is directing the Jenny Laird play and has been in contact with the playwright throughout rehearsals. “I’m attracted to plays by people I know,” says Barker. “And I like to match actors with characters who share some similarities.”

Set in the 1930s, Ballad Hunter chronicles a day in the life of Gussie; her mother, Hetty; and her daughter, Lotta. During the course of the day, Gussie will revisit her past and the mysterious ballad hunter—a recorder of local music—who appeared on the mountain one afternoon. Enchanted by Gussie’s singing, the hunter enchanted her in return. Then he disappeared.

Now Lotta, a girl on the verge of womanhood, wants to know about her father. And Hetty, who is superstitious yet practical, wants Gussie to stop thinking of that afternoon as the moment when her life felt like it started—and ended.

Poor but resilient, the women busy themselves with finding enough food for each day. While they work, their chatter includes intergenerational wisdom about mysteries in the woods and countercurses that might keep the local rabbits from dying or restore the voice and vitality of Buzzy, their damaged junk dealer neighbor.

They are wary of progress, especially as it is peddled by Cecil, a Rural Electrification Administration worker who is trying to bring electricity to the mountain and woo Lotta away from it.

Barker describes the play as subtle. “There isn’t any explosive drama,” she explains. “Instead the effect on the audience is a calm, slow awareness of what it means to live with the events of the past.”

The five-member cast includes seniors Susan Schoenrock, Waynesville, Mo., as Gussie and Brady Greer Huffman, St. Joseph, Mo., as Buzzy. Juniors Greta Floding, Holland, Mich., and Dan Laird, Orange City, play Lotta and Cecil; sophomore Kylie Steinbach, Shoreview, Minn., is Hetty.

Tickets for Ballad Hunter are $7 for adults and $4 for students. The DeWitt Theatre box office opens Nov. 2 for Theatre Patrons; it is open Nov. 3–21 for the general public.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting the box office between 4 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday or between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday. The box office can also be reached by phone, 712-707-7098, or e-mail,