PigPen Presents: The Mountain Song
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 18, 2011
PigPen Theatre Co. is back this year with a brand new tale spun with the same unbridled imagination that earned them the FringeNYC’s top award for Overall Excellence in a Production last year. This year’s story is set in Appalachia so the boys of PigPen break out their banjos and pluck their way into our hearts in a show that is downright charming and pure theatrical fun.
The Mountain Song is a tale told by a mountain. He approaches the audience at the top of the show and lets us know that this story is not only the story of a father’s search for his daughter—it is also the story of how he has come to be talking to us. Early on the father discovers that his little girl is a mute and while she may not have a speaking voice she does has a voice for the written word. She, like all children, moves away for schooling and such and the poor old dad doesn’t hear from her for a long time until one day he receives a message that she is to be married…only the message leaves out exactly where. By a river somewhere, it says, near a gazebo. So he sets out to climb the nearby mountain and get the lay of the land and thus sets in motion his prolonged odyssey in which he meets up with all sorts of creatures, good and bad, who help and hinder him along the way.
The first thing that will strike you about this production is that every single one of these guys is immensely talented. Along with a talent for acting, they each play an instrument and sing. In fact, they treat us to some great pre-show music. The next thing that will strike you is their incredible imagination and ingenuity. The story they tell is like a fairy tale. It’s rooted in American folklore, with characters such as coyotes and crows and a giant mountain man. There are many flights of fancy in the tale such as the moment when the father sails off of a waterfall only to find himself flying among the clouds. They often make use of simple objects to tell their story. Instead of making a puppet that is entirely a goose, for example, they simply make the wings and use their hand and arm for the head and beak. I also really loved their use of shadow puppets to tell their story. The design and construction of them is beautifully done.
The wonderful scene and puppet design is courtesy of designers Nic Marlton, David Feldsberg and Jared Gerbig. They do a fantastic job helping to create the overall look and feel of a wandering band of players that are putting on a show for a small town crowd. The performers Alex Falberg, Arya Shahi, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Matt Nuernberger and Ryan Melia are all quite extraordinary. Their unity is unmistakable and rich. They have developed succinct rhythms. Their performance is terse and yet it never come across as strained. They are at ease with each other and the material at all times. This, to me, gives this production a raw innocence that you don’t often see in theater that is not meant for children. Speaking of which, this show is great for kids. I wouldn’t call it a kid’s show but the style and material is perfect for a family night out at the theater.
I think The Mountain Song certainly deserves another nod from the Fringe judges (or whatever you call them) but regardless of awards, PigPen Theatre Co. is a company to watch and follow. If you can’t see this one catch their other show in Brooklyn this fall.