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The Fisherman's Three Sons 

When an Appalachian fisherman dies, his three grown boys wander in separate directions to seek their fortunes

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
Hal Hughes tries to spin a play out of material that would make Joseph Campbell pee with delight. "The stories in The Fisherman's Three Sons have been inspired and borrowed from the Jack tales of Appalachia," says the program, "which had their origins, like those collected by the brothers Grimm, in the oral traditions of Europe." When an Appalachian fisherman dies, his three grown boys wander in separate directions to seek their fortunes. The youngest and meekest, Jack, helps a mysterious old wizard, who rewards him with a magical burlap bag. The bag has the power to hold anything Jack wants. He just has to say, "Whickety-whack! Git in my sack!" and anything, even Death, will be sucked helplessly into the folds of burlap. For a while, in fact, our hero carries Death around like a sack lunch. The fairy-tale material is fascinating at first, and well-acted, but Hughes indulges in so much of it that the story winds up being an exercise in pure symbolism instead of drama. When the wizard turns into a princess claiming to be the "High Priestess of Whiteburg," we really, really don't care whether she makes it back to Whiteburg in order to claim her mystical crown. Transitions between the live-action play and puppet scenes are also clumsy. The intricate puppets (by Gitty Duncan), projected images from the Tarot, and interludes of fiddle music (by the playwright and Jill Kjömpedahl) make a rich sensual feast, but underneath it there isn't enough human story to carry the show, even as a symbolic dream.


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