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Meet the Blalocks

Having wrapped up “The Importance of Being Earnest,” we are moving on to produce and direct our July offering, the true story of a husband and wife team who fought as both regulars and irregulars (that is, fighting for one side without actually signing up to a military regiment) for the north in the mountains of North Carolina. We call the play “Bushwhackers.”


Bushwhacking seems to be a lot of what happened in the mountains of North Carolina and, as our play reveals, it happened an awful in that traditional “Brother against brother” mode. Bushwhacking is the art of lying in wait for your enemy to come by. Hundreds of both Union supporters and Confederacy supporters were robbed, murdered and lynched during the years of the war.


Why it happened so much “over there” as opposed to “over here,” I cannot say… although I will note that family feuding was not unheard of. Our protagonists’ (I will not say “heroes,” though “anti-heroes” may apply) families had been feuding for more than one hundred years.


Self-sufficiency was also a much bigger thing in the mountains. As beautiful as they are, mountains are not easy place to have slave-heavy plantations and a life of gentility (for the upper class whites, that is) like the piedmont and coastal plains of our state. The mountains made you work for your sustenance, and the farms people could coax out of them often were only enough to feed their own families. Rather than the individual pride that arose in the east (note the pride that got Richard Dobbs Spaight killed), a strong familial pride arose.


We hope you’ll see the show. But I also encourage you to do your own research. Our main characters’ names were Keith and Malinda Blalock. I have compared their semi-lawless nature (as have others) to being North Carolina’s own “Bonnie and Clyde,” though our music writer, Jimmy Merritt, strongly disagrees… he points out that they were not lawless in the same way that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beaty… I mean, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were. Keith and Malinda knocked over no banks, and what they stole and the people they shot were in the name of the Union cause – or at least, they told themselves it was.


Keith Blalock had known Malinda since their school days in the earliest days of the Civil War. They looked forward to a quiet life in their home on Grandfather Mountain. Keith and his stepfather Austin Coffey (his blood father had probably been bushwhacked when Keith was a young child) were both staunch unionists but probably wanted nothing to do with the war.


However, recruiters and mountain leaders such as Congressman Zebulon Vance, who knew his family, were frantically trying to raise forces to fight for the Southern cause. He felt pressured to join and feared for his wife’s safety, so he came up with a plan: He would sign up, march off with the 26th NC, then at the first big battle they got into he would march across enemy lines and join the other side.


Malinda had her own plan: as soon as he was off, she cut off her long hair and signed on as his brother. She was soon found out and sent home and Keith rolled himself in poison oak all night so that he was in such a physical mess that he was sent off with her.


But poison oak heals, and it wasn’t long before the Home Guard was knocking at his door, demanding he come back to the unit. It was now that Keith and Malinda fled and spent the rest of the war fighting for the union side. Before it was over, both Malinda and Keith would see close relatives murdered – and they would murder another relative in retaliation.


It's a dramatic story and it has a lesson for our own volatile times. Our version has exciting drama, some humor, and a lot of great music—we hope you’ll come out and see us in July. In the meantime, Google Keith and Malinda Blalock and learn their story.


Next week we’ll talk about how one takes an elaborate story and converts it into two hours on a stage.

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