The Fabulists: Fabulous fun for the family on Martha’s Vineyard

The Fabulists: Fabulous fun for the family on Martha’s Vineyard

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The French Chef (Paul Munafo) tries to catch a chicken (Scott Barrow) for his "chicken cacciatore." — Photo by Meg Higgins

At just 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning, the woods are alive with peals of laughter and screams of delight. A lion roars, a man sings, and leaves are crushed underfoot.

What is the cause of all the commotion? It is finally the first week of July, and with Independence Day festivities, beautiful weather, and an influx of visitors to the Island has come the time for The Fabulists’ first performance of the 2012 season.

“There are only a few ways you know that summer is truly here,” Fabulists’ actor and director Paul Padua began before an audience of children and adults on Saturday, July 7.

“This,” he continued, with a gesture to those eagerly awaiting The Fabulists’ inaugural summer performance at the Tisbury Amphitheater, “is one of them.”

Since the early 1990s, a group of Vineyard Playhouse affiliates known as The Fabulists has been entertaining audiences of all ages. The troupe’s repertoire is diverse, with adaptations of everything from Shakespeare to the brothers Grimm.

This past Saturday, the Fabulists opened the 2012 season with a performance of the traditional Jewish parable, “The Rooster Prince.” The plot revolves around a kingdom thrown into chaos when the crown prince and soon-to-be king reveals that he is not a man but in fact a chicken. Hilarity ensues as the appalled king enlists the help of an eager French chef and strange hypnotist to transform the prince back into a man.

While based on stories of old, shows by this troupe at the amphitheater are anything but traditional. “The Rooster Prince” proved no exception.

The Fabulists have modified the traditional story by including references to Vineyard landmarks and contemporary events. At one point, the king remarked to a laughing audience that he was so old he remembered cassettes and “a new venture called MySpace.”

Editing the script is not, however, The Fabulists’ only trick to keeping their performances fresh after 20-some years. While the premise of each story remains the same, each show is unique because of the troupe’s strong focus on improvisation and audience participation.

In “The Rooster Prince,” children from the audience were invited on stage to dance the “Chicken Dance” and act as “Knights of the Hexagon Table.” They also shouted input when prompted by Mr. Padua’s narration as to how the show should proceed.

The script, then, is more like a loose guideline than a detailed plan.

Ellen Weiss, a summer resident of Edgartown and mother of three, equated the show to “Sesame Street” in its fun for all ages. “It appeals to kids in silliness and adults in cleverness,” she remarked. “I loved the actors’ puns.”

Eight-year-old Lincoln of New York enjoyed getting on stage to perform the “Chicken Dance.”

While “The Rooster Prince” will be shown again this Saturday, July 14, Mr. Padua remarked that it could be an entirely different show than the one performed this past weekend, “depending on what the chickens do.” The following week, The Fabulists will perform a new show that, like “The Rooster Prince,” will run for two consecutive Saturdays.

The Fabulists are in action every Saturday morning at 10 in July and August at the Tisbury Amphitheater. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 2 and over, and can be purchased at the amphitheater just prior to the show. For more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

Maddy Berg, a former Times intern, summers in Edgartown and will be a sophomore at Harvard this fall.