Don't go to Juneau-Douglas High School's presentation of "Jungal-book" expecting King Louie, the comic orangutan and his wise-cracking Disney-fied friends. "Jungalbook," adapted by poet Edward Mast in 1982 from Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book," stars Mowgli and the wolves. But it's a dramatic and at times dark story, full of puppets and masks, and set deep in the jungles of India.
"The posters say third grade and up, because I don't want kids to come expecting it to be all happy flowers and rainbows," said director and drama teacher Bethany Bereman. "There are some dramatic elements to it, but any parent can bring their kids."
Bereman just received her master's degree in theatrical production from Central Washington University and was introduced to the play by one of her professors in Ellensburg. As it turns out, set designer Lucas Hoiland was involved in a touring production of the play and was interested in the challenge of a new presentation.
Mast placed his story in an urban jungle. Bethany and Hoiland have set it in the jungles of India, with a sparse, vaguely industrial set.
The script is notable for its eye-dialect, a way of intentionally misspelling words to signify sounds or colloquialisms. Mast draws out vowels and consonants to try and create a sense of the animals characteristics. "Jungal," for instance, is purposely skewed to create a drawl.
"I think it was a help for me, because I get more into the character and I don't have to think of words in a certain way," said senior Seneca Harper (Bagheera the Panther). "I just read the words off the paper and I memorize them that way."
The plot is essentially the same as Kipling's novel. Mowgli (Sara Sayre), a young human boy, is raised in the jungle by a wolf pack and protected by Bagheera the panther. When Mowgli turns 10, Sherakhan the tiger (Erika Rothchild) decides the young boy must leave. Mowgli does not understand why he can't stay in the jungle, and why his protectors can no longer protect him.
"We've been telling everyone it's a little darker (than the Disney version)," said junior Giselle Stone (Grab, the young wolf). "Mowgli has to go through the transformation from being a young boy to actually being a man, trying to fit in and realizing where he actually comes from. In the end, it's really sad, but beautiful."
The JDHS production team created nine masks for the play and an assortment of puppets. Three puppets are on loan from Central Washington.
Mask-puppet maker and physical-movement director Roblin Gray Davis has been helping the cast learn how to act with puppets and top-of-the-head masks - masks that actually extend out from the top of the head.
"Our heads are tilted downward and our eyes are facing toward the floor," Stone said. "A lot of us haven't done any mask-work, and we need to be able to get into this other sense that you need to figure out where somebody else is on stage. You have to know the play and the blocking really well. We've been working a lot on where the focus of the mask is."
"Your head is in the neck," said senior Justin McCown (Akela, the wolf pack leader). "I'm surprised at how it worked with the spatial relationships, especially since we're wearing the masks and we can't see without eyes. You use your ears, and you use your senses."
"The cool thing about mask theater and puppets is the magic that they lend to a show," Davis said. "It's always challenging to work in masks, and top-of-the-head masks are even more challenging because they're all at a different part of the body than working with the face. You really have to have this great kinesthetic awareness of the body as a performer to constantly remember that the focus of the mask is different than your eyes and your face.
"We've come up with a convention for this show, where the actor moves in and out of the maskwork. They deliver lines as themselves, as the voice of the character, and then they go back to working in the masks which are at the top of the head. It's a very creative and new convention in wearing masks, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out."
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.