All Weather Ballads, a fascinating puppet show presented by Vermont's Sandglass Theater at the Contemporary Arts Center, featured some sports we're not used to in New Orleans, including ice fishing. But Ballads is subtitled: "A Love Story," and the romance is not obvious at first. Each scene seems to be a separate vignette, but love between the central characters develops from its first vital outburst through the saga of a long-term commitment.
The simple and effective staging featured puppeteers Eric and Ines Zeller Bass (co-founders of Sandglass) dressed in black with their faces and hands visible, so the audience could see them manipulate the characters. The sets were assembled from wooden boxes and planks with occasional miniature props like wooden ladders. Guitarist Nick Keil sang a ballad for each vignette.
The first ballad celebrates ice fishing. A plank represents the ice and there are small cabins where the fishermen stay warm while waiting for a bite. When a flag pops up, the fishermen reel in the catch on the line. There is much chatter and silliness between the competing fishers.
In scene two, "Ballad of the Muddy Road," a pickup truck is mired in the mud. The owner, a farmer in a flannel shirt and overalls, strains to free the truck and soon becomes mired in the mess. A raven swoops in, grabs his cap and flies off with it.
After a change of scenes, the bird drops the cap near a young woman picking apples. The man enters, retrieves his cap and is startled by articles of women's clothing falling from a tree. Finally, the woman, naked as a blue jay, falls out of the tree and into his arms. Love always comes as a surprise, but not always as funny a surprise.
The final scenes turn to the less blissful and whimsical territory of love as a long-term partnership. The couple has a baby, and the woman feels neglected. She starts burning apples in their Franklin stove and the house catches fire.
Finally, they discover a new commitment in love, and they work together with a two-person saw to cut firewood.
Eric Bass conceived All Weather Ballads. Keith Murphy wrote the music and Sabrina Hamilton created the effective lighting. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show and one hopes Sandglass will return to New Orleans with more work. — Dalt Wonk