Photo by Marcy Stamper

The mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi is assisted in his quest to rid the garden of cobras by tailor birds Darzee, in magenta, (Connor Herlihy), Darzina, in lime, (Lena Frady) and Ikki the porcupine (Angel Arellano).

Merc production features elaborate set, captivating costumes

By Ann McCreary

“The Adventures of Rikki Tikki Tavi” carries audiences into an exotic and colorful jungle world when it opens Friday (April 27) at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp.

Presented by the Tom Zbyszewski Children’s Theater, “Rikki Tikki Tavi” features young local actors, many portraying exotic animals brought to life through elaborate costumes and a magical set.

The play, based on Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book story, tells the tale of a British family in old India that is threatened by marauding cobras, in cahoots with an arrogant tiger. Only Rikki Tikki Tavi, a mongoose, can save the family, and he does so in a surprising way.

Audience members will be drawn into the story by a striking set and costumes, and Indian-themed music and dancing, said Jane Orme, a veteran teacher and theater director, who co-directs the play with Missi Smith, The Merc’s executive director.

“The set is fantastic,” said Orme. “The stage has the most fantastic tree built for the show. It goes up to the lights and spans the stage,” Orme said. “It looks like one of those old, gnarly trees with roots and vines and limbs and leaves, and it’s made out of paper.” The tree was designed by local artist Betsy Kieckhaefer.

The rest of the stage is painted as a jungle in vibrant colors. The back wall of the set was painted by Liberty Bell High School art students and designed by art teacher Robin Nelson-Wicks.

“Not to be outdone by the set, the costumes are out of this world,” Orme said. Cast members portray cobras, monkeys, wolves, a tiger and the mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi, wearing costumes and face paint designed by Darla Hussey.

“She did a lot of research into costuming,” Orme said. Hussey also created two 8-foot long snake puppets that are manipulated by actors.

Whenever the evil cobras or the arrogant tiger, Shere Khan, appear on stage, the audience is encouraged to hiss or growl, Orme said. “It’s really a kid-oriented performance,” she said.

The show includes dancing choreographed by Missi Smith. Music for the play is in the style of original Indian music of colonial times, as well as well as more modern Bollywood style, “which is like Indian disco,” said Orme. Dean Hussey, a Liberty Bell High School junior, created some original music and jungle sound effects for the play and is the sound technician for the production.

The cast ranges from 8 years old to junior high school-age students, Orme said. “Some have never been on stage before. It’s a fantastic experience for them. They are really enjoying it and doing well,” she said.

Performances are April 27 – May 6, with shows at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $5 – $18, and Thursday, May 3 is “Pay What You Can” night. For more information go to mercplayhouse.org, or call 997-7529.