The friend I brought with me to see this show noted at the end: "It's rare that I see a show with you that I want to go on longer than it already has, but this time I really wanted it to keep going." Then again, as the legendary soul man Bobby Womack famously noted, "Leave them wanting more and they'll call you back."
The Colonists is one of the latest creations from the team behind Jollyship the Whiz-bang, which played to great acclaim at Ars Nova last spring. That show combined music, puppets and storytelling with more imagination and fewer cheap laughs than Avenue Q, not to mention more interesting puppets. This show isn't as bombastic as Whizbang, and it's far more innocent than a bawdy band of pirates — after all, a children's theater grant from the Jim Henson Foundation helped create it — but it is more poignant in its modesty.
Writer Nick Jones and composer Raja Azar (acting as musical and pyrotechnics consultant) worked with a host of collaborators, including a number of accomplished performers and the puppet designer Robin Frohardt. In fact, Jones and a few colleagues formed a brand new company this year to help support work like this, called the Terrible Baby Theater Company, which promises exciting new work in the months and years to come.
The Colonists focuses on the friendship between a rabbit who is a wannabe gardener and the earthworm who helps him make that garden into a productive, successful business venture. The bunny begins to manufacture world-famous pies with its produce, selling them at a local farmers market. The story's main arc concerns the earthworm's dream of flying after witnessing the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The worm's determination nearly destroys his friendship with the bunny and leads to some very unnatural acts when a bee colony arrives in the garden and takes the worm back to their hive.
The show has no spoken words and is narrated simply with little cards and a stellar soundtrack. In fact, the one thing I fault the company for is not giving solid music credits in the program. If you ever studied film or video, you were probably told that the big difference between amateurs and pros is in the audio. The worlds created by the music in this piece were spot-on, adding tremendously to the story.
There is some talk in the company's program statement about being subversive, and you could probably find seriously dark themes in this show — colonists perverting the lives of the natives, inter-species relations, a really anatomical-looking worm, capitalist manipulation of friendship. But there's plenty on the surface to interest anyone, save the most hardened souls. So, give yourself a break from taking your own life and this city too seriously and go enjoy this great piece of theater.