‘Brother Coyote and Sister Fox’ ruffles feathers with humor and folklore

The show at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts follows a naive coyote and a sly fox both seeking a chicken dinner.

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Adapted by Stephanie Diaz Reppen and Jean Enticknap and directed by Gavin Cummins, “Brother Coyote and Sister Fox,” presented by Seattle’s Thistle Theatre Company, has all the stage magic that we expect of the Center for Puppetry Arts. It also, despite its fairly simple narrative, hits some sweet notes. The show will run until Sept. 24.

Originally a Mexican folk tale, “Brother Coyote and Sister Fox” tells the story of a cat-and-mouse game that takes place between a naive and trusting coyote and a sly fox on a ranch in Mexico. Brother Coyote dreams of getting his first taste of Doña Conchita’s chickens. Unfortunately for him, Sister Fox also has her eyes on the tasty little birds and repeatedly manages to outwit the trusting coyote.

I will get the worst out of the way: Several of the chickens do perish. However, surprisingly, the carnage doesn’t make the show any less kid friendly. Most of them are swept away in a flourish of feathers. It does, however, create a strange dissonance in rooting for Brother Coyote to outwit Sister Fox while also being acutely aware that he wants to eat the adorable birds. The show doesn’t resolve that point, nor does it need to, as Brother Coyote’s motives ultimately lack any bite. He is too dimwitted to present an actual threat.

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

Zane Exactly’s vocal performance helps sell that point by imbuing the character with an endearing silliness that is bolstered by the evocative puppet design. Gina Wilhelm also lends intelligence and charisma to Sister Fox. Cass Bray rounds out the trio of puppeteers, providing amusing sound effects for several of the animals. The three work as a well-oiled machine, often operating the same puppet simultaneously or working together on synchronized musical numbers.

It’s this teamwork that allows the physicality of the characters to really pop. At times, Brother Coyote moves like an actual quadrupedal animal, and at others he squats and leaps around like the cartoon character he is.

The team also executes some interesting musical numbers, particularly those that utilize the chickens or the tongue-in-cheek cockroaches that chastise Brother Coyote over his offensive singing of “La Cucaracha.” The latter is also a good example of the dual humor that the show employs — many jokes about climate change and political correctness will fly straight over the heads of the young children in the audience. However, there is still plenty of slapstick humor to keep them entertained.

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

Credit: Courtesy of Thistle Theatre Company

The music and lyrics by Sue Ennis do a good job of livening things up. Notably, multiple songs include several lines of Spanish, introducing an important bilingual element to the production. The Spanish pronunciations come out sounding distinctly American, but that might be for the benefit of the non-Spanish-speaking children in the audience. Either way, the Spanish is woven well into the show, even providing some tongue-in-cheek moments in which those with a passing level of proficiency can pick up on certain jokes faster.

The puppet design by Brian Kooser is simple but effective. He does have some fun with a few of the designs, including adding a little sparkle to the lowly cockroach puppets. The set design is also fairly minimal, though Kooser and Enticknap have made the clever addition of name plaques for each of the chickens that get taken down each time one falls prey to Sister Fox.

Most of the narrative follows a typical comedy-of-blunders format. Brother Coyote confronts Sister Fox, is tricked into helping her with some imaginary task and ends up suffering comically while she feasts on the unsuspecting chickens.

At no point does he learn a lesson, but he stays true to his trusting nature. There is a hint of a switch, however, at the very end when Brother Coyote shares an unexpectedly tender moment, not with Sister Fox but with Cleotilde, the last surviving chicken on Doña Conchita’s farm. It’s a sweet beat, and perhaps even a thought-provoking one if you wish to probe it deeper. You don’t have to, though. If nothing else, it is a pleasant note on which to finish off the show.

PERFORMANCE REVIEW

“Brother Coyote and Sister Fox”

Through Sept. 24. 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays. $22-$27. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, puppet.org.

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Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturg. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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