Ajijaak on Turtle Island: A Review
Storytelling is the oldest form of theatre. When primitive man first encircled the fire it was stories that were told. Even before known language was created tales were communicated to put moments into perspective and to celebrate accomplishments. Ajijaak On Turtle Island, with all the magic that comes with it, celebrates and elevates the art of storytelling. Now playing at the New Victory Theatre, with a cleverly written script by Ty Defoe that embraces Native American myths and legends, Ajijaak On Turtle Island is a wonder filled production that represents the very best in family entertainment.
Produced by Ibex Puppetry and co-directed by Ty Defoe and Heather Henson, daughter of the legendary Jim Henson, Ajijaak On Turtle Island is the story of a little crane born to a loving family. A fire soon consumes their world and Ajijaak is separated from her family in the ensuing chaos. This sets her on a long journey north to be reunited with her parents. Along the way she encounters both good and evil. She finds herself in a world filled with other animals and spirit guides that teach her life lessons as well as guide her along the way. They also teach the viewer of the dangerous effects of climate change on Mother Earth and all her creatures.
Original storyboards written and drawn by Heather Henson bring this compelling fantasy to life. Cranes fly, buffalo roam, deer frolic, and coyotes are mischievous. Humans appear as well and they connect us all to the animal world we coexist with. All of this takes place on the back of a giant turtle because as tradition dictates the place others know as North America is also known as Turtle Island. There is beauty and magic on constant display on this island. Drum head screens display a colorful variety of beautifully drawn projected images, colorful costumes clothe the players, and the puppets that populate the stage, designed and fabricated by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, are breathtaking.
The cast, consisting of North American First Nations Peoples, is a gifted ensemble displaying adept skills as not only story tellers but as traditional singers and dancers. They are also master puppeteers. The cast seamlessly weave indigenous languages, dances and songs, while manipulating their string, rod, and cloth counterparts. Native American technical advisors from many nations including the Echota Cherokee, Cheyenne River Sioux, Rappahannock, Hopi and Kuna insure that the beating heart at the core of the tale remains true. Ajijaak On Turtle Island is a marvelous celebration of the precious world we live in. It’s storytelling that reminds us of our important past, examines our precarious present, and offers much needed guidance on our own journey to its future.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a Drama Desk member. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
The New Victory Theater
209 W 42nd St
New York, NY 10036
March 1 - 10, 2019