Traditional proverbs and native cultural mythologies often have creative ways of answering questions humans have asked throughout history. Why does the sun shine? Where did we come from? Lexington Children's Theatre's wants to know Why Mosquitoes Buzz, the title of its latest production, an African folktale adapted for the stage by associate artistic director Jeremy Kisling.
The show exhibits the quality production values, high-caliber performances and engaging storytelling techniques that I have come to expect of LCT. But the story itself, while instructive, is less revelatory and impactful as Kisling's previous adaptations, like The Princess Who Lost Her Hair.
Directed by Sara Vasquez, the tale has a cast of four actors who take turns portraying animals, humans and, occasionally, a god of the African jungle.
Vasquez's careful attention to a fluid marriage of design and performance elements is the production's strength.
Eric Abele's jungle-printed costuming feels like an extension of Jerome Wills' scenic design.
Abele's intricate puppetry adds color to the African-inspired visual tableau, and the actors deserve praise for wielding them so confidently, particularly since each actor not only plays multiple parts, but occasionally, the same characters.
Vasquez's fluid blocking is arranged in a way that the actors might portray any character at any time. For instance, sometimes Ashley Isenhower plays the mosquito and other times, Deidre Cochran does. It is the puppet and not the actor who symbolizes the character, which could be confusing if not done properly.
Isenhower, Cochran and fellow castmates Antony Russell and Michael Whitten have an impressively comfortable, organic relationship with Abele's puppets. But the inclusion of two large human puppets, while skillfully rendered, seemed cumbersome and not particularly necessary to the storytelling when you have four live humans available for the task.
The foursome also deserve praise for their ensemble drumming, which punctuates the story's beginning and ending. This use of traditional African drums, along with a handful of call-and-response elements seemed particularly popular during the opening-day performance I attended.
A colorful trickster tale intending to teach the lesson of cooperation, communication and accepting responsibility for one's impact on the community, the material is fun and engaging in a "there was an old lady who swallowed a fly" way. It shows how one small event can set off a string of reactions that ends up affecting everyone.
However, I personally thought the mosquito got the short end of the stick with his buzz-worthy "punishment." Yes, he started the whole string of events that led to a tragedy, but on the other hand, he was being a mosquito, doing what mosquitoes do: They bite.
'Why Mosquitoes Buzz'
What: Lexington Children's Theatre's production of an African folktale dramatized by theater associate artistic director Jeremy Kisling. Recommended for ages 5 and older.
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 2; 2 p.m. Feb. 3
Where: LCT, 418 W. Short St.
Tickets: $14, $12 children. Available by calling (859) 254-4546 or at Lctonstage.org.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.