According to Coyote at The Children’s Theatre Company

George Keller in ACCORDING TO COYOTE - Publicity photo by Dan Norman

The Trickster pops up everywhere. Reynard the Fox, Prometheus, Eshu (in the Yorba culture), the Monkey King (in Chinese mythology). In western literature, the quintessential Trickster is probably Shakespeare’s Puck.

The character appears most vividly, though, in the vast and varied Native American storytelling tradition. He can be a crow or a spider, but most often he’s a coyote, raggedy-looking but fast and strong, moving over the living bones of the world, always alone, always hungry, always on the lookout for mischief. Which he creates, spectacularly. He always escapes retribution, though, and moves on, leaving an altered world in his wake.

Playwright John Kauffman collects a number of Coyote stories in his lovely According To Coyote (on the Childrens Theatre Co.’s Cargill Stage, through March 21, In this hour long one-person show Coyote steals fire from the Old Ladies on the mountain and brings it to the world, dances with the stars, tries (unsuccessfully) to catch and eat Rabbit, dies and is resurrected by Fox. The stories are funny, unpredictable and they all have, like Coyote himself, a sharp edge of world-changing passion. Marvelous stuff.

Our storyteller in the CTC production is George Keller (who is, her name notwithstanding, a member of the feminine gender). Keller is a natural. She engages the audience, initially, with the houselights up, smiling, friendly. Then, as the stories take on momentum, the house goes dark and lighting and sound effects are layered in. Keller’s Coyote fills the Cargill Stage and the ancient world she evokes is vivid. There is a very nifty costume effect (Lee B. Dombroski is the designer): Keller starts out wearing simple jeans and tee shirt but as the stories build she dons moccasins, deerskin leggings, breechcloth, face paint, ending with coyote fur and a mask that flies in from above. This transformation is effortless and effective.

Good as Keller is, the icing on According To Coyote is the design. Don Yanick has created a wonderfully simple circular set, gorgeously painted, with two large wooden (I think) eagle feathers suspended over it, along with an off-center Coyote image. The sound (Chris R. Walker) and lights (Paul Whitaker) are great, pitch-perfect and dynamic, enriching but never interfering with the action. The fire effect alone is worth the price of admission.

Which is not inexpensive. CTC shows may not be cheap, but they are always worthwhile. The audience at the show I saw had a great time.

Definitely recommended.

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