According to Coyote, the new one-person show at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC), relates the captivating tale of the legendary trickster from Native American lore. The story is told as part of the Native American myths about how the world was created, the naming of the animals, and the creation of the North American tribes. The central character is Coyote, who is both heroic and foolish in fulfilling his responsibility to rid the world of monsters and make the world safe for the coming of humanity.
The play was originally commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was written by the late John Kauffman. Kauffman was the former artistic director for Honolulu Theatre for Youth and his mother was full-blooded Nez Perce. Kaufman was raised on a tribal reservation in Idaho. His one-act play about Coyote provides a dramatic forum for retelling the stories of his mother’s culture.
|according to coyote, presented through march 21 at the children’s theatre. for tickets ($15-$40) and information, see childrenstheatre.org.|
Sheila Daniels, who directed According to Coyote at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, directs the CTC production. George Keller is the sole performer in this production, playing the role of Coyote the trickster, the fool, and the trailblazer for the coming of humanity. Prior to the show, Keller starts out chatting with audience members—primarily the children—and rather casually takes the stage to start the performance. She quickly takes on the persona of Coyote while serving as narrator as well as other characters with whom Coyote comes into contact. One amusing character is the clever rabbit who escapes being eaten by repeatedly promising to bring Coyote a chicken dinner that never materializes. Coyote’s foolishness often costs him his life, but whenever his friend the Fox does his ritual dance, Coyote is brought back to life.
The play illuminates the similarities between the Native American stories and Greek mythology. One tale has Coyote in a role similar to that of Prometheus the fire-bringer and benefactor of mankind, with Coyote plotting to steal fire for the animals. A second tale parallels the legend of Orpheus, with Coyote demonstrating both his deep devotion and his impulsiveness—which ultimately undermines his efforts to secure his wife’s return from the dead.
Keller takes on the competing demands of her many roles with great storytelling skill, varying her voice and expressions—sometimes playful, other times serious. Supported by Paul Whitaker’s striking lighting effects, Keller smoothly shifts the audience from the climatic end of one tale into the telling of another tale.
Don Yanik’s set design incorporates what appears to be a Native American Circle of Life. It’s disappointing that neither the play nor the program makes any effort to describe the circle or its purpose, though all action occurs within it. The most effective element of scenery is a translucent, back-lit symbol on the background which, through creative lighting, alternatively takes on the role of sun or moon.
The publicity for the play notes that is intended for children ages seven or older, but it may be a bit of stretch to expect a seven- or eight-year-old to watch the show as intensively as is necessary to keep up with the shifting stories. But children and adults who pay attention will enjoy a delightful hour of storytelling and share in our nation’s rich Native American mythology.