If you’re ever torn between spending an afternoon immersed in Whidbey’s dreamy nature, enjoying a live music performance, watching something thought-provoking or spending time with family and friends, String and Shadow Puppet Theater has got you covered.
Their latest show, “Ship of Fools: a Giant Puppet Odyssey,” will take audiences on a journey across the river Styx that feels like a fever dream. At 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20, people are invited to join the adventure from the comfort of a picnic blanket or chair at Deception Pass State Park. The park is the last destination of the 75-minute show that has been touring the West Coast since July 19.
Founded in 2017 by Emily McHugh and Donald Palardy, String and Shadow is a group of multidisciplinary artists based in The Olympia Family Theater whose original works take inspiration from folk tales, ancient myths and science fiction.
Ship of Fools is a cocktail of elements inspired by circuses and Greek mythology, balancing the themes of death and grief with playful performances and vibrant visual elements.
The title “Ship of Fools” originates from an over 2,000-year-old analogy by Greek philosopher Plato, which satirizes governments led by incompetent people. In this metaphor, crewmembers of a ship at sea fight over who should replace their captain — who is perfectly capable of doing his job despite being slightly disabled.
In String and Shadow’s reinterpretation, the fools are depicted in a more positive light, in a way McHugh said — without spoiling anything — audiences can relate to.
The Styx also comes from ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, which String and Shadow often takes inspiration from, Styx is the river that connects the living world to the underworld.
“We thought that would be an interesting mythological story and environment to explore and modernize to make a pretty loose interpretation of that myth,” McHugh said.
During the journey, the audience will meet an approximately 15-foot long whale, a moon with a human face, a hermit crab with a house as its shell, a lion and its tamer, the literal eye of a storm and more.
All puppets are hand-made with paper, foam, cardboard, wood, plastic, bamboo and cloth — mostly recycled.
McHugh, who among many things plays a water spirit, the third piece of the whale and the butt of the lion, loves running around the stage in costume, despite the hot summer temperatures.
“It’s a very physically demanding show,” she said. “I like the grittiness of it.”
The atmosphere is further enhanced by live sound effects and music inspired by circuses and world folk traditions, performed by three musicians with their bass, violin, saxophone and drums.
As part of String and Shadow’s commitment to bringing the community together with affordable and accessible live theater, the show is free of charge, but a Discovery Pass is required for vehicle access to the park.