Make Your Way to The Way to the Way

By Chris Berger  

Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Wednesday February 23, 7:30PM

I have to say upfront I am a fan of Artistic Director Andy Park, his students, and what they have been doing over at The Nebraska Repertory Theatre under Executive Director Christina Kirk. I became enamored with their style and all the many productions they have staged since I saw One Thousand Words almost three years ago. So when I was assigned to review their latest production The Way to the Way, written and directed by Andy Park with music by Scott Lamps, I was definitely going into it with an extremely positive attitude. I also had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Park about his play earlier this week on a podcast that I co-host with my wife. So, yes, I was primed and ready.

The evening was divided into three parts. To start, there was a pre-act performance by the Lincoln Taijiquan Association (LTA), a community-based organization dedicated to the sharing and practice of Taijiquan, commonly known as Tai Chi. Gary Yuen, lead instructor for the LTA and instructor for Tai Chi classes offered through the UNL dance program, led the demonstration and performance with a group of his students. The audience was encouraged to participate in Taijiquan by coming up onstage with Mr. Yuen or by following along in the aisles. I was one of the people that participated onstage with Mr. Yuen and I don’t know how I looked, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found the experience very relaxing. 

After the pre-act performance by the LTA, the evening transitioned into the play itself, The Way to the Way. The set started simply with a cherry blossom tree on one side of the stage and a mountainside with a stream running down on the other. As the play continued, a myriad of backdrops and set pieces were quite effectively used to create each scene as Turtle advanced along his epic journey. 

The main character is a turtle that decides for many different reasons to leave his home and family and set out on a long journey to find the ocean. Turtle’s journey is a physical as well as a spiritual one and he encounters many different animals and characters on the road. A crane that sings to him a song that helps him along his way, a kaleidoscope of helpful butterflies, a talking carp, and a couple of fabulous and hilarious peacocks are just a few of the dozens of characters brought to life in the form of puppetry. 

Many different styles of puppets are used throughout the production from traditional hand puppets to ethereal shadow puppets to a full sized horse puppet that requires at least two people to operate. I am a fan of puppets and the art of puppeteering and I really enjoyed the way all the characters were used and integrated into the story. 

The puppets themselves and the movement of the actors, combined with the many different lighting and sound effects really create a unique and immersive experience unlike any other production in our area. After a while, you stop noticing the puppeteers and only see the puppets: the characters taking life though this wonderful mix of light, sound, movement, and voice. 

The play is narrated by a human character played by Anna Braxton who begins the play and even interacts and sings with the other characters in the story. It is a magical and spiritual journey told in a highly creative and engaging way. I really love seeing productions that take on theatrical disciplines that are less frequently utilized and using them effectively to create characters and tell stories.

This is a highly technical show with a thousand different light, sound, and set cues coordinating with the puppetry, music, and movement. I can’t imagine taking on the challenge of being on the creative team and running this show from the booth! The book of light cues alone must be as thick as War and Peace

The outstanding Creative Team on this production is: Mia Hilt, Choreographer. Bindi Kang, Dramaturg. JD Madsen, Scenic Designer. Jill Hibbard, Puppet Designer & Fabricator. Francisco Hermosillo III, Lighting Designer. Jeff O’Brien, Sound Designer. Stephanie Schlosser, Technical Director. Andy Park, Writer & Director. Scott Lamps, Music. 

The cast of The Way to the Way is: Anna Braxton, Narrator. Seamus Doyle, Turtle. Alura Long, Frog/Puppeteer. Calli Mah, Puppeteer. Daniel Arevalo, Puppeteer. Henry Walter, Puppeteer. Luke Stursma, Puppeteer. Jackson Wells, Puppeteer. 

The Post-Act Performance featured Jing Mo Tong Athletic Association, a private Martial Arts and Lion Dance Club based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Jing Mo Tong instructors have over twenty years of experience in lion dancing and martial arts and are the only competitive lion dance team in the state of Nebraska. I have never seen a lion dance live before and it was really mesmerizing! The excellent performance by the Jing Mo Tong dancers, percussionists, and drummers was a great way to wrap up the evening. 

I recommend this show for all ages, especially if you like puppetry. Also, if you wish to experience original material, presented in a different and imaginative way which will cause you to reflect on the beauty of life, I think you will enjoy yourself immensely. 

If you go: The Way to the Way runs from February 23rd to March 6th at the Howell Theatre in the Temple Building. Ticket info can be found on their website.

Chris Berger is an actor that lives in Louisville, NE and has performed at theatres in Nebraska since 2015. Chris is a co-owner/co-founder/performer in The Jolly Rogers, a comedy singing pirate group that tours the country and has released several albums. Chris, along with his wife Sheri co-host a local podcast called The Platte River Bard that focuses on the local Nebraska theatre/arts scene.      
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