Those willing to brave the humidity of a summer's night will find many a smile at Chapel Hill's Forest Theatre with Paperhand Puppet Intervention's The Serpent's Egg. Water bottles are, thankfully, just a dollar.
The production takes the form of five "cycles" dealing with concepts of life, death and immortality that tie into all sorts of big cosmic mythological ideas, but can mostly be enjoyed for the cool big puppets.
And what puppets they are! A serpent made of human bones sets the stage, collapsing into piles overtaken by plant growth before limbs assemble into a massive two-sided Eve, which has a unique encounter with a giant, slithering serpent. Geometric shapes form into a dancing stick figure man. A dragon combining the classic medieval imagery and the long, snaking figure of Chinese New Year parades does battle with an army of knights drawn from everything from the Spartans to fascist police in a tableau vaguely resembling Picasso's "Guernica" (you'll be rooting for the dragon).
The dragon itself later soars into the audience, as does a flock of blue birds. Puppeteers clad in giant papier-mâché baby heads that are equal parts unsettling and adorable re-enact the story of life, while skeletons dance, Mexican-style reapers cavort on bone horses and towering plant-people reach out to the golden hands of a giant sun.
This is all highly impressionistic; the emphasis of the hour-and-a-half show is less on plot than imagery, which makes the final sequence of silhouette puppets, narrated by writer/ director Donovan Zimmerman, a bit of a comedown. Rather than being a dramatic finale, it feels as if the audience is being told everything it's already seen over the course of the evening, with some monologues about goddess power thrown in for good measure. The last section isn't necessarily bad, but this denouement saps energy from the show, taking it small after the audience has experienced big, big concepts.
In its wordless state, The Serpent's Egg is a lovely piece of all-ages storytelling whose images range from the bizarre to the fantastic, and sometimes both. Though it features numerous unexplained mythological references, there's nothing that would go over the heads of audience members—or their children, who will likely enjoy the babies and the giant dragon. Even if you leave still uncertain of the significance of the egg in question, the show is still one of the few things worth leaving the house for in this weather.