“Nyx and the Long Night” opened recently at Olympia Family Theatre to a full house and gladsome audience. Billed as “an original folk myth,” the play is the result of a serendipitous collaboration between OFT and String and Shadow Puppet Theatre, their first-ever Company in Residence.
The production is artfully directed by Luz Gaxiola and co-created by Emily McHugh and Donald Palardy of String and Shadow and OFT’s Artistic Director Lily Raabe. The story is a winter’s tale about how the sun’s warming light turned into an endless winter solstice, and how it came to be restored through the heroic efforts of Nyx, the titular wood sprite—“part girl, part tree.” Nyx’s efforts, when they’re not being thwarted by greedy evildoers Wendle and Preston, are aided and abetted by an array of Nature spirits and creaturely confederates, including an assortment of forest animals, a polar bear, and an oak tree on stilts.
In the long tradition of OFT productions, young actors are well-represented in the cast, led by Adi Vannice, a 7th-grader at Marshall Middle School. as a strong and confident Nyx. In the Ensemble are Izumi Huff from Washington Middle School and Isla Morgan, Jefferson Middle School. Among the (slightly to somewhat) older actors are the excellent KB Bailey as Nyx’s droll sidekick, Axl, Maija Sandberg as Mama Luna, who had a hand in the sun’s disappearance but on the other hand plays the harp while telling the tale, and Ione Mullins as Tullimora, the imperious forest sorceress who gives Nyx the metaphorical keys to the light’s return. Success, of course, depends on confronting the power-mad proprietor of the Summerland amusement park, Wendle and his oily underling Preston, played for all they’re worth by Alexander Grace and Razz Yoshioka (who’s also the show’s multi-tasking pianist). Jesse Morrow is Summerland’s long-winded Tour Guide, and Kate Schmitz brings Ursa the polar bear wonderfully to larger-than life.
The intimate and versatile OFT stage (and the house itself) has been beautifully set in a forest of snow-covered evergreens by Jordanna Averett, magically lit as needed by Kate Arvin. Major changes of scene are easily managed by the use of large and colorful drop cloths. Music is effectively threaded throughout the production, with actors playing a variety of instruments, including, besides the aforementioned piano and harp, Tara Donohoe as a mushroom-playing flute. And in addition to the use of String and Shadow’s signature giant puppets and magical masks, Ariel Schmidtke, offstage and behind a scrim, brings the story to life in yet another dimension, using, if not shadow puppets, shadow actors.
In addition to all of the above, “Nyx and the Long Night,” for all of its technical and performative complexities, was brought off with well-rehearsed confidence, and with the sense that the cast and crew knew what they were doing and were having a great time doing it. That’s an irresistible combination for theater-goers of all ages (well, 5 and up), and will no doubt continue to bring Olympia Family Theater audiences to their feet throughout the month-long run.
Nyx and the Long Night (recommended for ages 5 and up)
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Dec. 23 and Jan. 6 – 7,
3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 24 abd Jan. 7-8
3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21
Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E • Olympia
Photos by Jo Arlow Photography.