The trickster gods Loki, Coyote and Anansi are bored, and ready to stir up some trouble. “Let’s cause some mischief for the mortals by stealing the thing they love the most,” says Anansi.
Coyote — played by Davis Cameron Lemley in the world premiere production of J.S. Puller’s richly imaginative “The Box of Stories,” which is currently playing at the Growing Stage children’s theater in Netcong — suggests fire. Loki (Marcelo Leal) has a good idea, too: gold. But Anansi (Ashley Leone) trumps them with something unexpected: stories.
Coyote and Loki are skeptical at first, but soon see the wisdom of Anansi’s idea. Without stories, there can be no meaning or spirituality or humor to life, and what remains would be pretty grim.
“Only life, death and survival,” says the mortal Jenna (Cara Ganski).
Fortunately, Jenna’s sister Imra (Caitlin Menber) finds the box in which Anansi, Loki and Coyote have hidden all the world’s stories. And though she can’t unleash them, she can hear them, and re-introduces them, one by one, to humanity. Just like the three tricksters come from different mythologies (African, Norse and Native American), the stories Imra tells come from all over the world, using figures from Indian, Vietnamese, Greco-Roman and other traditions. Leone, Lemley, Leal and Ganski help act out the stories, on the way to a happy ending in which the tricksters, inevitably, are tricked.
The play, which is being produced (with direction by Stephen L. Fredericks) as the winner of the Growing Stages 2016 New Play Reading Festival, has a lot going for it. It doesn’t just recycle these timeless stories (most of which will be unfamiliar to attendees), but also tells a heart-tugging new one about the relationship between the two sisters. The trickster characters really lend themselves to some broad comedy: Leal’s Loki in particular seems more goofy than threatening, with a cartoonish quality reminiscent of Wayne Knight’s Newman character in “Seinfeld.”
Perry Arthur Kroeger’s sets and masks and Lori B. Lawrence’s costumes were appropriately exotic and multicultural, and music enhanced the action at times — though this was a mixed blessing, since one of the actors had trouble being heard over it.
The last three performances of “The Box of Stories” take place Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 18-19 at 4 p.m.; visit growingstage.com.