The Tarradiddle Players brought color to a gray winter day last weekend with a world premiere of “Brother Rabbit Spinning Free,” a multicultural quartet of stories written by Marco Ramirez and commissioned with a grant from the Women’s Impact Fund.
Darlene Parker plays the narrator, Dr. Story Tella, who snaps beans from the stage’s lone chair as she introduces Slippy Fox and Brother Rabbit. They are the perpetual cartoon pair: one predator, one potential prey. When Fox entraps his nemesis, Rabbit buys time by amusing him with stories.
Each tale harks back to a different land and presents a different theme. The play is slightly disjointed, as the stories have little in common other than their multiculturalism. The material tries too hard to fit into a cohesive storyline.
This setback is trounced by the chemistry among the Tarradiddle Players, who can please an audience that ranges from grandma to toddler. They exaggerate their physical comedy when the attention of the little ones begins to waver. Their enjoyment of each other is evident, and their cooperation apparent through numerous speedy costume changes.
Production values are exquisite. The Players perform in schools throughout the region, so their set must be simple enough to break down and transport. Scenic designer Tim Parati is a master of his art: Four connected panels provide windows into three continents.
Each is decorated with a symbol – a parrot, a sweetgrass basket, a labyrinth and a dream weaver – of the land from whence the tale comes. Behind each symbol is an exquisite painted background illuminating the heritage of each story.
“Martin the Magnificent” comes from South America. When Mr. Magic (Stephen Seay) comes to town, he challenges Martin to succeed at one of three magic tricks.
Jennifer Matthews’ costumes are another star in this show. Fiery skulls adorn Mr. Magic’s flowing black cape and are a stark contrast to the brilliant fuchsia embroidery on Martin’s granddaughter’s blouse.
From the Vietnamese, Brother Rabbit offers “The Fisherman’s Princess,” about a lovely girl whose mother locks her in a tower to keep her fresh and beautiful. “Before the pearl can gain its shine, inside the clam it must reside,” she admonishes. Properties designer Peter Smeal outdoes himself with the fisherman’s basket boat, which wiggles across the stage like a giant slinky. The dangling beads on the Queen’s silk hat are hypnotic.
The Cherokee tale “The Very First Fire” provides the best comic acting. It is the first winter, and owl, brown bear, raven, and water spider venture to the sun to save the earth from the cold. The feathery headdresses would make a fortune on the open market, and the spider’s legs are ingenious. Leslie Ann Giles knows how to be a spider.
The most touching story comes from South Carolina. “Lookout Mountain” is about the “people who run,” and is a somber reminder of how slavery brought the Gullah to our region. The story is spiritual, and affects Slippy Fox just as it affects the audience. It takes us around the world, returns us home, and Slippy Fox and Brother Rabbit bring the show to a sweet resolution.