Sunday, August 7, 2016

My friends put on a play

I just saw something that I can't believe my eyes just saw.

I saw something resembling muppets playing a fiddle, a banjo and a guitar.

No, really.

It all happened in a musical play called "The Tourist Trap," sponsored by The Peppercorn Theater at the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem and it was held in the cozy Hanesbrands Theatre on Spruce Street.

So it's off, off, off, off, way off Broadway.

But that doesn't mean it isn't worth your consideration.

The musical performers in this production are The Blue Eyed Bettys, who wrote the music for the hourish-long performance. The Bettys, as I call them, are a trio of talented actors/musicians who include Ben Mackel on guitar, Daniel Emond on banjo and Sarah Hund on fiddle (see here).

Without revealing the storyline too much, it's about a couple who gets waylaid by car trouble, possibly in ultrarural Georgia. The rest requires suspending — or, as I like to think, expanding— belief.

What is truly astounding about the play is the incredible logistics behind it. The three musicians play their own instruments, but do so with muppet-type puppets attached to their hands and arms. And in order to make the puppets seem real — to open and close their mouths or shake their heads — they are manipulated by humans who might as well have been attached to the Bettys at birth.

The Blue Eyed Bettys, their puppet characters, and their puppeteers.
 The puppeteers are essentially human shadows. It's constricting, it's constraining, it's claus-trophobic — and it's amazing.

"It wasn't easy and it's taken a lot of practice," understated Sarah, whose puppeteer was Bailey Gray Smith. Maria Ortiz shadowed Ben, and Cameron Newton was glued to Daniel.

I saw what I saw and I still can't believe it. How could the Bettys play their instruments? How could they sing in character? How could they move from here to there without tripping over their own personal puppeteer?

How come we don't see this type of stuff on the real Broadway?

There were other marvels. The stage sets were mobile and imaginative. The very fact that the sets were moved into position as the play continued was fascinating. It's actually a very physical production.

And the music was wonderful. If you are familiar with the original work of The Blue Eyed Bettys, the kind they perform in bars, bistros and backyards, you'd have no trouble recognizing the musicianship or the tight harmonies here. It doesn't take much for The Bettys to have their way with you once they get into your head. Literally and figuratively.

(Click here to see the puppets play instruments).

I don't mean to get too carried away by what I saw today. It is, after all, a show geared to children (although Sarah did say that it seems the adults in the audience appear to come away with more of an appreciation for the performance than the kids).

But it is worth an hour of your time. It's a lot of fun. And you won't believe what you just saw.

The play is based on the book and lyrics by John Bowhers and is directed by Harry Poster. The puppet direction is by Scottie Rowell. Other performers in the show include Karen Neitz, Andre Minkins, Hana Kristofferson, J. Andrew Speas and Simone Pommels.

The production continues until Aug. 14, with shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is pay as you can.

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