The award-winning Mettawee River Theatre Company returns to Pittsfield for their tenth annual visit to perform classic tales drawn from world mythology and literature. The performance is free and open to all, and will be held under the stars on the lawn in front of St. Joseph’s Church at 414 North Street in Pittsfield on Sunday, July 22nd at 8pm (this is a change from the original announced location of Springside Park). The performance is sponsored by the City of Pittsfield Office of Cultural Development, with in-kind support from St. Joseph’s Church.

This year’s Mettawee production is COMMUNICATIONS FROM A COCKROACH – Archy and the Under Side, drawn from the classic and hilarious Archy and Mehitabel sketches, which were written by noted humorist and poet Don Marquis for his daily column in the New York Sun starting in 1916. The New York Times called the first Metawee production of this tale “original, laugh-provoking and charming … a tribute to Ralph Lee, the show’s designer and director.” Founder Ralph Lee is best known as the founder of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade and the creator of the Land Shark character on Saturday Night Live, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient.

The illustrious Archy is a cockroach who possesses the reincarnated spirit of a free-verse poet and who finds his means of expression by jumping from key to key on Marquis’ typewriter. He shares with us his misadventures as well as those of Mehitabel, an alley cat with the soul of Cleopatra. Archy, Mehitabel and their lowlife acquaintances face the bewildering challenges of the modern world with humor and determination. The production incorporates a wide array of puppet critters operated by actors in full view of the audience – from fleas, tarantulas and crickets, to an ancient Egyptian mummy – a colorful population from the nooks and crannies of early 20th century New York.

According to Mettawee director/designer Ralph Lee, “Although most of them have more than two legs, the characters created by Don Marquis are bursting with humor and wry observations of human nature. They took the stage by storm in our original production, and here they are again, in an expanded version of the show.”

Communications from a Cockroach, was originally co-produced by the Mettawee River Theatre Company and the Shakespeare Project in 2001. Critics called the show, “original, laugh-provoking and charming … a tribute to Ralph Lee, the show’s designer and director.” (New York Times – May 19, 2001); “an entertainment of considerable sophistication and plentiful delights.”(Back Stage – May 25, 2001); “turns a blast from the past into a smart contemporary kick.” (Village Voice – May 22, 2001). In addition to Mr. Lee’s puppets, masks and set, the production has costumes designed by Casey Compton. Actors Andrew Butler, Tanya Dougherty, Amelia Grossman, Tom Marion and Rob McFadyen will play multiple roles. The production will feature an original musical score composed by Neal Kirkwood, performed by musicians Dennis Sullivan (double bass) and Ed RosenBerg (percussion).

About the Mettawee Theatre Company

Under the Artistic Direction of mask maker, designer and director Ralph Lee, the Mettawee River Theatre Company, founded in 1975, creates original theater productions that incorporate masks, giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music, movement and text, drawing on myths, legends and folklore of the world’s many cultures for its material. The company is committed to bringing theater to people who may have little or no access to live professional performances.

In his design and direction, Lee seeks to create vivid theatrical moments with economy and elegance. This search for an evocative simplicity of image and Mettawee’s commitment to making theater accessible to the widest possible audience through its outdoor performances give this theater company its particular character.

About Ralph Lee

Ralph Lee first created puppets as a child growing up in Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated from Amherst College in 1957, and studied dance and theater in Europe for two years on a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon returning to the United States, Lee acted on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theaters and with the Open Theatre. During that period he started creating masks, unusual props, puppets and larger-than-life figures for theater and dance companies, including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the Living Theatre, the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Shari Lewis, the Metropolitan Opera and Saturday Night Live.

In 1974, while teaching at Bennington College, Lee staged his first outdoor production, which took place all over the college campus, and featured giant puppets and masked creatures. That same year he organized the first Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which he directed through 1985. For his work on the parade Lee received a 1975 Village Voice OBIE Award, a 1985 Citation from the Municipal Arts Society, and in 1993 he was inducted into the City Lore People’s Hall of Fame.

Two of Lee’s Mettawee productions have been honored with American Theatre Wing Design Awards: The Popol Vuh in 1995 and Wichikapache Goes Walking in 1992. Under Lee’s direction, Mettawee also received a 1991 Village Voice OBIE Award and two Citations for Excellence from UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. Additional awards to Lee include a 1996 Dance Theatre Workshop Bessie Award for “sustained achievement as a mask maker and theatre designer without equal,” and a 1996 New York State Governor’s Arts Award in recognition of his many contributions to the artistic and cultural life of New York State. In 2003, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors. In 2008 Lee served as the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland at College Park. In 2011 and 2012, he traveled to Romania to collaborate on the creation of an outdoor theatre production, addressing the issues faced between the Romanian and Roma (gypsy) communities. He is currently on the faculty of New York University.

For more information about the Mettawee River Theatre Company, including a full schedule of this summer’s outdoor tour, visit the company’s web site at www.mettawee.org.