Two companies, comprised only of men who also double as musicians, have recently visited Boston. On the big stage at the Huntington Theater, England's Propeller Theatre Company created music, magic and mayhem with original takes on Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" and "Richard III."
PigPen Theatre Company, founded by seven students at Carnegie Mellon University, took over the much smaller Rehearsal Hall A at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion, and presented a brief evening of music and magic with their world premiere production of "The Mountain Song."
Using puppets, shadows, milk crates, and paper mache, elements from folklore and fantasy, and a lot of imagination and creativity, the men of PigPen weave an hour-long Appalachian-inflected tale of a quest, full of challenges, unlikely circumstances, and ultimately, redemption.
Each of the barefoot performers is also a musician and the pre-show interlude welcomes the audience into a folksy homespun setting.
The entire production seems to be a group effort, as no single member of the ensemble is credited with the direction, script, music or lyrics of the charmingly whimsical fable. Underscoring, musical effects, and songs highlight the saga of a carpenter father's search for his lost mute daughter, Abigail.
As narrated by the mountain (Ben Ferguson), the father (Dan Weschler) has been told of Abigail's wedding, but knows only that it's being held at a gazebo at the end of a river. Ignoring his neighbors' warnings about bears and boulders and spiders ("he'll be picked apart by birds before he says his final words"), he travels to each of the three area rivers, encountering a fairy-tale assortment of creatures along the way.
These magical personalities include a talking goose who befriends him when the dad's raft goes over a waterfall and becomes an airplane ("I like having a new flying partner"); a coyote who demands to be fed crows; a giant named Emmet Jones for whom the carpenter makes size 239 shoes; and a lunatic riding a suitcase which is a horse (or is it?). These characters all either help or hinder the father in his quest.
In addition to building his raft/airplane and the shoes for Mr. Jones, the dad had used his carpentry skills to build a wooden voice box for Abigail. But years later, spent from his journeys, he collapses on the mountain and realizing he'll never find Abigail's wedding, he buries the voice box. The mountain, having been given a voice, speaks, surprising the father who asks if the mountain can keep him from dying and help find his daughter.
"No," the mountain insists. "I'm just a mountain."
Considering the magic we've already seen, it's not surprising the father thought the mountain might be capable of this feat.
In the many years since the father first set out on his quest, Abigail, now a mother, a widow, and a successful author who found her own voice through her writings, moves back to her childhood home. Portrayed by dresses on poles, they find the father on the mountain and share a brief reunion before he expires.
When the father had requested that the mountain sing to him, asserting that would be a nice way to die, he reviewed the mountain's performance: "That's a good story... Sad but pretty... the way a story should be."
Exactly what PigPen's "The Mountain Song" is.