Fool Me Once | Northern Sky Theater

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Conceived by Jeffrey Herbst
Adapted and Directed by Paul Sills in Collaboration with Jeffrey Herbst
Additional Text and/or Lyrics by Fred Alley
Music by James Kaplan

Fool Me Once makes a merry mockery of some of the biggest fools in fairy tale and folklore history. Told in the story theater method AFT has practiced regularly since its inception, Fool Me Once is a collection of over a dozen stories of fools from the far reaches of the world and from a vast swath of mythological history. In 1999, Fool Me Once was a story theater collaboration between AFT and the legendary director Paul Sills.


Door County Advocate
ED HUYCK - June 1999


AFT brings tall tales to life in ‘Fool Me Once’


“Fool Me Once” is like an evening spent around the campfire, telling tall tales.


But my campmates were never the caliber of storytellers as the cast and creators at American Folklore Theatre. And that makes “Fool Me Once” – which premiered Saturday at Peninsula State Park – an intoxicating night under the stars, listening to stories.


“Fool Me Once” was initially conceived by Jeffrey Herbst, AFT’s artistic director. Herbst worked with Paul Sills – founder of Chicago’s Second City troupe and a Broadway director – to bring the idea to fruition on stage.


The mood for the night is set from the opening bit, which includes the cast holding big letters and sounding out words, kind of like the old “Sesame Street” routine.


The 10-person ensemble tells the tales during the hour-plus show. Well, they tell and act the stories. The show merged the two styles, creating a wonderful, extended storytime for the audience.


The tales are drawn from different cultures and eras, but the “fool” always sits at the center of each tale.


But calling them “fools” is not entirely accurate. Sure, the scatterbrained birds that run willy-nilly to the king (because the sky is falling, of course) in “Henny Penny” or the Packers-and-tuna-fish-surprise lover in “A Bag of Brains” fit perfectly into that glove.


But the others? In “Hans in Luck,” the protagonist is a man who makes a series of appallingly bad trades. He starts with a nugget of gold as big as his head and ends with nothing. But through it all, he remains happy, because what he has just received is exactly what he wants.


In the “The Golden Goose,” a young lumberjacks – who has never been let outside of the house before – shows kindness and is rewarded with a golden goose. While he is wide-eyed and innocent, he isn’t the fool. that title goes to the horde of people who become stuck to him because of the goose. But the stream of fools gives him a reward even better than the goose.


The other stories continue in the same, clever vein. The characters usually get what they want, even if it is not exactly what they expected.


With this type of show, the performers have to be able to shift from character to character and story to story quickly . At the same time, they need to be able to keep the characters cleanly defined. It’s something that the AFT cast pulls off with seeming ease.


Even though the costumes don’t change much from story to story – it may be the difference between a 10-gallon hat and a ball cap – the actors make each character an individual.


In “Henny Penny,” each of the actors – from the title character to “Cocky Locky” to “Ducky Daddle’ – takes on a bird’s characteristics. While the wily fox – it’s a folk tale, there’s always a willy fox – comes off as a suave shyster ready to take advantage of the situation.


The set is minimal, consisting of a few chairs, a couple of giant building blocks and a handful of props. The actors mime the rest, but you can practically see the galloping horse in “Hans in Luck” or the creaking door that won’t stay shut in “The Cowboy Who Came Out Only at Night.”


But the simplicity can be intoxicating. When the youngest brother emerges into the outside world for the first time the “The Golden Goose,” the mix of joyful music and the bright acting lets the audience see every new wonder through his eyes.

Green Bay Press-Gazette
WARREN GERDS - July 1999


Folklore Theatre continues merrily on its loopy way


FISH CREEK – Coming off a banner year, American Folklore Theatre shows no sign of letting up as a popular, home-grown, Wisconsin entertainment attraction.


The season includes a completely new show, a revamped show and the return of the rollicking Belgians in Heaven.


Summer shows last year drew 30,000 patrons to the outdoor amphitheater in Peninsula State Park.


Log seats, wood chips on the ground in the audience area and trees growing through the stage make it one of the most unique theaters anywhere.


The shows are sure-fire fun for families. Shows are short (about an hour), clean, funny and whacky. they don’t pretend to be great. They’re a joy to watch unfold.


Watch out, though. If the evening is cool and the air crystalline, the greens of the trees and grass and the blues and pinks of the sky will leap at you. You will be bewitched. You will be a goner before plays ever start.


American Folklore Theatre puts on at least one show each night, except Monday. The shows are created for the theater.


This year’s fresh attraction is Fool Me Once (3 1/2 starts out of four). It’s a collection of stories – with incidental music and lots of sound effects – about fools and tomfoolery.


A Bag of Brains is especially crackling on a couple of counts:


  • It most shows how an improvisational technique called story theater can be sensational in the hands of experts. The man who developed the technique – summer Door County resident Paul Sills (also famed for Chicago’s The Second City) – is director. That’s as expert as you can get.
  • Key performers in A Bag of Brains are among the troupe’s top-line performers. Fred Alley plays a dim-witted guy who tries to buy a bag of brains (he doesn’t have enough to make it on his own) from a sunning witch. The cackling witch is played with nasty luster by Green Bay native Doug Mancheski. Megan Cavanagh (in for the summer from Hollywood, where she most recently acted in TV’s Home Improvement ) plays a woman with bedrock practicality: “They say fools make good husbands.”


A Bag of Brains is a thing of stylish beauty. It’s also downright funny for all.


Kids will love Henny Penny. It’s the old Chicken Little, the-sky-is-falling story, with adults acting out the goofy barnyard characters.


Some of the stories are soft on impact. One is pure American Folklore Theatre weird: The Cowboy Who Came Out Only at Night. Alley plays the cowboy who sings (with a stunning tenor) and by day is a turtle. Whew.


Freshened for this summer is Fishing for the Moon (3 1/2 stars out of four), which was first produced in 1991. It’s a strange musical comedy adventure, though that’s something that could be said about all the troupe’s shows.


The first thing you see is a school blackboard that says, “Know your live bait by tomorrow.”


You know you’re in for something tilted.


It’s a romantic story that takes place two years after this Civil War. The six characters are each searching for love or a validation of it.


The oddest character is a Union colonel (Mancheski) who believes his cows are his soldiers. His song Shirley, Gary, and Bo – sung as if a conquistador were recounting the glories of his wife, his son and his prize bull – is the second-most bizarre piece in the show.


The first is With You When You Go, with Jeffrey Herbst (who directs ) singing about his joints and limbs as objects the girl (Laurie Flanigan) he is courting will miss if she passes him up.


Composer James Kaplan fills the show with variations on ‘40s tunes. He also creates a tricky, contrasting duet for Alley and Herbst to open the show.


Fishing for the Moon includes some of American Folklore Theatre’s trademark mind-benders. Here’s one:


When the colonel asks his wife (Cavanagh), “Do you believe in free will, Shirely?” she responds, “Do I have a choice?”