A Sweet Strangeness Thrills My Heart ~

The World of Sallie Independence Foster, 1861 - 1887

review by Clarke Stackhouse of artsBHAM

Masterful storytelling and beautiful music filled the Red Mountain Theatre Cabaret as storyteller Dolores Hydock and musician Bobby Horton performed their program, “A Sweet Strangeness Thrills My Heart,” on Saturday, January 14 at the Red Mountain Cabaret Theatre.

First premiered in 2013, the show chronicles the true story of a young girl, Sallie Independence Foster, who lived in Florence, Alabama, during the Civil War.

Through extensive research, Hydock was able to bring Foster’s story to the stage and create a unique perspective on the war from a girl living in the South during those years. Hydock began the show explaining she knew she wanted to tell a story of a Southern woman during the time of the war. She said she wanted it to be about the life of a truly remarkable woman who just happened to live during the Civil War, not just the fighting that surrounded her. The result is a story about a 19th-century woman that resonates with audiences in the 21st century.

Hydock transported the audience to a warm Southern day in the summer of 1861 and began the story of a young 12-year-old girl and her day-to-day life, told through excerpts from her journal and different letters and writings addressed to Foster. Act I followed Foster through her teen years during the war, sometimes telling part of her story through letters addressed to Foster from her brothers, who were Confederate soldiers.

The stage was lightly decorated with a chair for Hydock and Horton, a bench, table and writing desk. All elements of the production focused on telling Foster’s story, with minimal distractions. The stage was flanked by two screens with images of Foster’s signature that remained there for the entire evening. The most used items on stage were the props replicas of Foster’s journals Hydock read from to paint the story.

While Hydock spoke and detailed the life of Foster and her family in Florence, Horton played his guitar, banjo and violin, highlighting music from the war era, and performed different tunes sung by Confederate soldiers. Horton is a very talented musician, and the addition of his instruments and vocals further gave the audience an emotional connection to Foster’s world. As a modern audience, some of the lyrics and subject matter in a few of the Confederate soldier songs were discordant, but allowed the audience to gain a perspective of the war from a lesser seen Confederate view. There were a few golden moments of interaction between Hydock and Horton when the music offered humor to the story, as she gave him sidelong glances.

In Act II, detailing the post-war years, the pace of the show quickened, as did the number of journal entries and stories. The moments of combined music and storytelling shined with the telling of the courtship of Foster and her eventual nuptials. Foster seemed to have many a suitor, and the delight Hydock expressed through her words made the audience feel the deep love Foster held for the people around her.

The night was full of beautiful storytelling and history from a perspective rarely seen. Hydock’s mastery at shaping the story let the audience get to know and love Foster, and Horton’s accompaniment and solos added to the story and transported the audience to a different time.