Wednesday night I attended the opening of Kevin Kling’s Folks and Heroes at the Open Eye Figure Theatre. As promised, it delivered new stories, songs, and reflection by local legend Kling—who apparently returns to Open Eye every August to do whatever he wants (per the emcee). Yay! A new tradition to look forward to amongst nights of s’mores and fresh tomatoes during late summer.
12 stories take the audience around the world in a performance that moves swiftly through poetry (sometimes spoken, sometimes sung), storytelling, songs, and puppetry. Among Celtic poetry, Irish legend, Jewish folktale, Ojibwa stories, and Japanese tales, you get swept away with Kling’s clever retelling of myths and legends because he weaves them, respectfully, with contemporary metaphors, language—and my favorite—his opinions. Some of the stories move you to tears, while others leave you chuckling while thinking, “Ha ha! clever!” All of them are artful and executed lucidly—with the exception of the occasional serenade that is a little hard to understand.
|folks and heroes, presented through august 17 at open eye theatre. for information and tickets ($20), see openeyetheatre.org|
There are stories about animals (secret: animals like a good party) and brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, friends, and more animals. Well, animals who become friends. Accompaniment by Simone Perrin, Michael Sommers, and Jacqueline Ultan provides the “folk” to the music and opera to the oratory. You get a little bit of everything during Folks and Heroes: banjo, accordion, wash tub bass, and strings. And, Kevin on the harmonica during the finale. Kling asks in the program, “Are the old stories still relevant?” and my answer, at least, is “Yes! Particularly when they are retold by you.”
I did find the puppetry—the “figure theatre” part of the evening—awkward. It’s displayed using an overhead projector, but the image is occasionally blocked by the performers or the puppeteer’s hands. A fingerpaint-like background, which could be quite clever, becomes muddled with illustrations that don’t seem to fit within the projection screen. The best elements were the rather elegant ant, bee, and caterpillar during “Andy Ant,” along with a dancing fish for a bit in the beginning. Some elements echo the performance’s program artwork, which, in a nutshell, is just kind of creepy-looking as it depicts a liquid tornado (I’m assuming of stories) spewing from a hole in a head to a naked fledgling recipient. In concept, it works, but on paper, it scares.
Kling “preaches” his tales from a lectern reminiscent of Scrooge’s in A Christmas Carol, but it’s not high-up and it’s not down low, it’s positioned just right and gives him the opportunity to glance over his audience giving us a feeling of being tucked in for the night. To me, the desk prop complements a theme introduced as show opens: Kling reminisces about how, when you’re a kid and you’re not quite asleep and a little scared of the dark, your dad will remind you to settle down and not be afraid: it’s just your imagination. Yeah, exactly the point! Our imaginations can be scary, but thank goodness, Kling’s is also funny, poignant, and dear. He gives props to the storytellers and myth masters who came before him, reminding us that they all sit just off his right shoulder, encouraging him and helping him lest he forget something. The bedtime story ritual basically concludes the performance: after 11 stories, but before the “Persnickety Cricket” finale, in which we’re encouraged to not be afraid of the dark, and to embrace its mystery.
Open Eye ended the evening by inviting the audience back to its amazing urban courtyard for a not-so-typical-in-Minnesota plated buffet that included amazing dishes ranging from beets with aioli to tropical fruit (okay, being in Minnesota means bananas and pineapple, but still!) drizzled in caramel to sliced, juicy (and seeded!) tomatoes to cinnamon sugar croissants. A little something for everyone, regardless of whether you self-identify as a “folk” or a “hero.”
The evening was all yummy, home-grown goodness with just the right amount of theater. Sweet dreams ahead, indeed, after a lovely night of stories.