Photos by Pooja Pasupula.
The “trickster” archetype is prevalent in most cultures around the world. There is Loki from Norse mythology and Hermes from the Greeks. The stories of Robin Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk contain popular European tricksters. UNCC’s Department of Theater chose to explore this concept with their newest production, “Trickster,” which focused on Southern fables from a variety of backgrounds. The show ran from April 20-25 in the quad in front of CHHS.
The outside setting was absolutely perfect for this type of show, although I wish I’d known beforehand that chairs would not be provided so I could have brought a blanket. Instead, I sat contentedly along the back wall. The weather wasn’t yet the stifling heat of a North Carolina summer, which allowed the show to be comfortable. This outdoor setting also caused the audience to seem more relaxed and less formal. The director himself, Assistant Professor Carlos Cruz, even stated that he approved of the use of cell phones and encouraged audience engagement with the performers.
This was emphasized by the beginning of the performance, in which the character of Kid (Tykiique Cuthkelvin) ran through the audience chased by various students playing police officers. The premise of the show centered around the fact that Kid needed to learn the ways of tricksters to successfully escape the police. What followed were four short tales of southern tricksters, narrated by a Ringmaster (Amberlin McCormick) and her troupe of circus people.
The first of these tales told of Brer’ Bear (Dennis Dylan Lighthall) and Skunk. It told the story of how the Skunk eventually stole Bear’s house from his large family. The costumes for this were excellent, with full body bear suits for the bear family and a tail and hat for Skunk. This story also featured a musical number in which the Skunk convinces the Bear family they need brooms, one I believe was largely inspired by “Everybody Needs A Thneed” from “The Lorax.” Musicals are a favorite of mine and this is the closest to a musical I’ve seen UNCC perform in my time here.
The second story was that of Brer’ Rabbit (Tykiique Cuthkelvin) and the Tar Baby (Arden Boyle) of Disney’s Splash Mountain fame. Cast member Arden Boyle was brilliant as the Tar Baby. I didn’t even think it was physically possible to be that flexible. Her tap dance duet with Meghan Sharpe was equally enjoyable. Another Brer’ Rabbit story followed this, the fable of Brer’ Rabbit and Old Man Terrapin (Matt Miller). Similar to Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare, Terrapin challenges Brer’ Rabbit to a race. However, in this version, Terrapin hides at the finish line and beats Brer’ Rabbit without running the race. Miller as Terrapin especially stood out from the cast. He played the role as an almost comedic character and often moved in slow motion both to emphasize his role as a turtle and for humor. I also enjoyed the references to popular culture, as the cast sang “The Eye of the Tiger” and “Chariots of Fire” during the race scene.
The show’s final fable was entitled “When the Dead Play Tricks” and told the story of how Opossum (Quinn Watt-Riback) managed to escape from Coyote (Samuel Petre). It also included a short tale about Coyote as he attempted to catch turkeys for dinner. The choreography for the chase scene was lovably campy and I especially loved the cast’s rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” as a Turkey attempted to fly before being eaten by Coyote. In the end, the show returned to reality. Kid, remembering all the new skills he was taught by the circus people, successfully convinces the police to release him. The cast takes a bow.
The best part of “Trickster” was the cast. I have never seen a show in which it was so obvious the cast was having fun and this energy from them was infectious. Not only that, they were extraordinarily talented. The circus-inspired theme allowed them to showcase these talents, whether it was through aerial silks (Samuel Petre), aerial hoops (Arden Boyle), or group dance numbers. The enthusiastic and talented cast, excellent costume design and laid back atmosphere all combined to create a unique and entertaining theater experience. The show will also travel, with the cast performing on April 29 at Aldersgate for the International Sandwich Festival.