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Midwinter night dream: 'Huck and Puck'

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Jim Posante, Peter Knox in 'Huck and Puck,' opening Thursday at Performance Network.

Midwinter night dream: 'Huck and Puck'



Sometimes the inspiration for art can come virtually out of nowhere. Case in point: Performance Network's upcoming “Huck and Puck,” premiering Thursday evening.

“We sort of stumbled into it,” writer-director Linda Kendall says of her millennia-mixing play, in which Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (Peter Knox) crosses paths in a literary netherzone with Shakespeare’s Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow (Jim Posante).

“I wanted to write a play for Jim and Peter because they have compatible stage presences,” says Kendall. “And Johanna (Broughton, Performance Network artistic director) just blurted out, ‘Huck and Puck!’ So Jim and Peter and I started thinking about what we could do to somehow put these characters together.”

Eventually a story evolved. Fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania (of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) are invited by Alexander the Great to Alexandria, Egypt, to celebrate the release of a book by Greek writer Apollonius, “Jason and the Argonauts.”

“The book includes Thesius, who happens to be the Duke in ‘Midsummer,’ ” notes Kendall. “We also took advantage of the geographical presence of the Nile," from which Huck Finn approaches, floating on his raft.

In “Huck and Puck,” Titania disappears during Alexander’s bash, and an angry Oberon spends most of the play searching for her. Into this epoch-bashing chaos bounces Puck, who comes upon a brooding Huck in the woods.

The Egyptian woods? “Well, there’s a lot of magic in the play,” Kendall laughs. “And Huck believes in magic. He’s learned a lot of folk religion that deals with that kind of thing.”

Yet Huck - who in Twain’s novel longs for the “right and easy” life - is deeply discontented. “We decided that his big problem in the play is trying to figure out what the good life is,” Kendall says. “For him, the good life seems to be to find some sort of harmony between his intellect and his conscience and his feelings. Nothing quite fits right.”

Adds Knox: “He’s a character who’s searching for a weaving together of the things that he knows and the things that he feels, some way to balance intellectual understanding and emotional experience. That’s his journey in the play.”

“So what we do,” says Kendall, “is let Puck help Huck find some sort of sense of unity and harmony. When Shakespeare wrote ‘Midsummer,’ people felt a lot more together, or at least they didn’t have the language to explain how they didn’t feel together. This was before philosophers like Locke and Descartes began voicing questions about the unity of the universe.”

Says Posante: “Puck’s notion of the good life is to mess everybody up, and have fun. When he meets Huck, he tries to get him to expand, to explore and to things rather than just think and talk about them. Sometimes he literally knocks Huck off balance just so he can see the world differently.”

Kendall admits she read “a lot of Twain and Shakespeare, and a lot of philosophy. At one point, I had 22 textbooks and two atlases piled up.” During the course of the one-act play, her two actors mingle thoughts of Euclid, Shakespeare, Aristotle and others. They also portray a number of characters spanning “24-and-a-half centuries."

And though the director calls “Huck and Puck” an “educational" experience, the show is also geared for fun. “It’s not intimidating, despite a lot of literary-philosophical references,” Kendall says. “There’s also a lot of sight gags, crazy things going on.”

“For instance,” says Posante, “Puck does ‘traprobatics,’ just to make himself a little stranger. We’ve got a little minitrap door by which we can fly him onto the set.”

“The actors don’t match their characters’ images,” adds Kendall. “Puck is light and airy and bouncy, and Huck is morbid and heavy, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. But physically Jim has a lot of strength, while Peter looks like this little straw. It’s not what you'd expect, and it’s very funny.”

"Huck and Puck" runs Thursday-Sunday and Jan. 9-16, at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. Curtain Thursday-Saturday is 8 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m. Thursday is pay-what-you-can night. For information, call 663-0681.