A fable about two animals who leave their tribe to explore the world and its inhabitants -- and learn valuable lessons about themselves and others -- will take the stage again this week at Niagara County Community College.
The College Children's Theater will present "Crow and Weasel," directed by Nancy Doherty and adapted from the book written by Barry Lopez, in the NCCC fine arts theater, with performances to begin Friday.
Ms. Doherty directs the popular Shakespeare in the Park series on a full time basis -- this is her 19th year -- while managing to teach theater history and stage management and acting at NCCC part-time.
She came across the Native American coming-of-age children's story about six years ago while shopping for a book for her niece, and was so intrigued with the storyline and beautiful illustrations that she bought a copy of the book for herself as well.
Like many of the narrative, journey-making plots of the nearly 40 book published by Lopez, Ms. Doherty said "Crow and Weasel" is written in the Native American storytelling style about making journeys that broaden a person's perception of the world around them.
"It's really a story geared toward all ages. Adults will enjoy it even more on a different level, and children will definitely pick up on the special effects. Children will be interested in how the actors act as animals, while the adults may walk away with the spiritual side of the story."
"Crow and Weasel" tells the tale of the animal people, a mixed tribe of animals under the watchful eye of tribe elder Mountain Lion, who has a dream that the world is actually bigger than the world they exist in.
According to his dream, two people from the tribe, Crow and Weasel, are to take a trip to where dreams are born, and go farther than anyone has ever gone. He has visions of a river floating on ashes, the arctic, and of animals with hair only on the tops of their heads -- the animal people have never seen man before.
Each animal that Crow and Weasel come across during their journey has an important life lesson to share with the young travelers. Along the way, the two explorers meet a mouse, the Inuit people, walruses and other creatures who share their knowledge and bear gifts.
On their return trip, the two have to brave a snowstorm and almost die, but are saved by a bear, who guides them in understanding their self-worth, respecting nature and the importance of each other and of other people.
Crow and Weasel learn from their experiences, while learning about myths and other cultures.
"Through the course of the story," Ms. Doherty said, "we see how the relationship between the two boys changes, there is a power struggle at one point, and how the two deal with their spirituality and their pride.
"It's a story with a message of nature will take care of you if you take care of it . . . every living thing has a medicine," said Ms. Doherty.
"An interesting part of the story occurs when the two meet a badger on their way back, who tries to teach them how to relate their story properly. She says sometimes a person needs a story more than food to keep them alive."
The nine-member cast includes NCCC students Michael Kiner of Lockport, who portrays Crow, and Justin Cassamo, also of Lockport, who plays Weasel.
The other seven actors involved play a variety of animals, trees and people, and include Nicole Kennedy of Amherst, Nathan Cadle of Grand Island, Edmond Bedient of Lockport, Charles Cobb of Cheektowaga, and Bethany Sparacio, Shannin Green and Angela Cerrone, of Niagara Falls.
Kyle LoConti, coordinator of the NCCC theater arts program, said one of the things that makes this production so interesting is the animal masks worn by the cast were designed and built by an NCCC 3-D art class taught by Deborah Stewart.
"I like it when we can do these interdisciplinary projects," she said.
"They have the masks for when they are the speaking characters, until the point when they come across the Inuit tribe, and at that point, they are out of the animal masks and into translucent masks bearing some kind of Indian designs," said Ms. LoConti.
She said the designs for the masks were taken directly from the book, which "has exquisite watercolor paintings."
She said the work has been a great project for the students. "It's a very student-driven production, they designed the lighting and soundtrack, building, costumes and sets and props, because of the limited number of people available."
To make the set as realistic as possible, Ms. Doherty said the crew is using the back portion of the orchestra pit, and has built a set of levels and used different teepee design layouts so it looks like the landscape Weasel and Crow venture through is changing along their way.
The actors will also simulate effects to make the river and ice scenes come alive.
Musically, the audience will get a sampling of Native American drumming and flute music, along with compilations by song writer Robbie Robertson and others.
The 90-minute show will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with 2 p.m. performances scheduled to run every Saturday afternoon from Feb. 23 to March 6.
Tickets cost $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and alumni, and children under 12 will be admitted free.
There is also the possibility of taking the production to some of the neighborhood schools, to give the student actors a feel for touring. "It's a really different skill, with all of the technical aspects usually done for them in one location," said Ms. LoConti.
"There are fairly elaborate effects involved, and so we have designed a smaller, more portable set, where some of the production values won't be available, but it will still feature the same story and the same actors."