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Catawba Theatre Arts Sets "Death and the Ploughman" in Appalachia during Depression

March 16, 2007

Category: Academics, Events, Theatre Arts


Catawba College Theatre Arts created an original production of "Death and the Ploughman" and set it in Appalachia during the Depression as a way to make a 15th century poem more accessible to contemporary audience-goers. The production runs March 27-31 in Florence Busby Corriher Theatre on campus.

Written in the 15th century by the Bohemian humanist and writer Johannes Von Saaz, "Death and the Ploughman" is a 34-stanza tragic dialogue between Death and a recently widowed farmer. In Saaz’ original, Death and the Ploughman alternate verses in submitting their arguments and refuting each other. It was both medieval and Renaissance in style and questioned the mysticism of the medieval period.

Translated into English by Michael West, it has been adapted for the stage by Catawba Theatre Arts Professor and director of the production, David Pulliam, and the production’s cast. Now, it is a dramatized, adversarial duel where the farmer’s defense of mankind is a strong as Death’s ruthless prosecution of his own cause.

Pulliam moved the setting of "Death and the Ploughman" to the "Appalachia of song and story during the Depression." He chose this setting not only because it represents a transitional period in history, but because there is a very strong concentration of mysticism and religion in the region. Appalachia was America’s first frontier and the mountain life was one of isolation where traditional culture was preserved. Appalachian people are considered a separate culture made up of many unique backgrounds — Native Americans, Irish, English and Scotch to name a few — all blended together in the mountainous region.

An independent people, the Appalachians are very content with the places where they live; they are very close to nature; have a deep sense of belief in God, and are friendly and kind to one another. They have a strong sense of what is right and a deep mistrust of anyone who is new or strange, and they are resistant to change.

Thus, setting the play in the Appalachian Depression provides a connection to the Modern-day while retaining an element of mysticism. Although now translated, this text, as the original, still uses alliterative language as part of the storytelling structure. And, in addition to using traditional Appalachian music, the production incorporates several original pieces written by sophomore Jesse Hunter of Powder Springs, Ga., (the Musician in the play) in the style of the Piedmont string bands.

Other cast members include junior Robbie Farlow of Randleman as the Ploughman; junior Candace Neal of Waxhaw as Death; sophomore Nicole Bowles of Monroe as the wife; and junior Emily Wonderly of Hicksville, Ohio as the Messenger.

Performance times are 6:55 p.m. Tuesday, March 27 and Wednesday, March 28, and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 29, 30 and 31. Tickets are $8 per adult and $6 for students and senior citizens. For more details on the production, contact the Catawba College Box Office at (704) 637-4481. Group rates are available.