The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Provincetown Playhouse,
September 25 through 27) brings to an Iroquois creation legend the naive charm and visual
imagination that are the hallmarks of master puppeteer and mask-maker Ralph Lee, designer
and director of this family entertainment.
The myth tells how the pregnant spirit-queen falls–or is
pushed–through a hole in the sky and is rescued by animals who gather mud to cushion
her fall. Her daughter dies giving birth to twin boys, the straight and good Sapling and
the vicious Flint, who compete with each other, creating the fruitful or baleful elements
of our world.
The spirit people are carved, loose-jointed, wooden puppets manipulated
by dowels, who can suggest sadness or languor with an outstretched arm, exuberance with a
loping gait. The noble Sapling is straight and smooth, the evil Flint crooked and crabbed.
For her long, dramatic fall from the sky the queen becomes a tiny figure on a stick with
arms outstretched in panic.
A cavalcade of critters, animal and vegetable, prances and twitters
past as the tale unfolds: an ear of corn is a mask bristling with irregular kernels; the
papier-mâché-and-yarn beaver is a jittery comedian on strings. Sapling paddles through
the air in a canoe to tambourine and flute–among composer-performer Karen
Hansen’s 30 instruments–and poet-lyricist Bob Holman’s zany songs.
The comedy–exemplified by squabbling siblings and quizzical ducks
with New York accents–is mostly for the tots. But when the crowd at last week’s
show at St. John the Divine pressed forward at the end to inspect the puppet art close up,
the grown-ups led the pack.