Fort Worth — Hip Pocket Theatre is making beautiful music out at Silver Creek with The Enchanted Lake, Johnny Simons’ latest meditation on life and death and the whole dang thing. And seldom has death come so invitingly as in this good-looking production, with sylphs and spirit dancers and magical snakes—and a hypnotic score for the piece by Darrin Kobetich, whose music undoubtedly is the evening’s star. Cue some Texas cicadas singing in the trees, and it just becomes one of those evenings at the Pocket, hippie-dippy and a bit fey—but then, there’s a tear in your eye.
Water clearly holds meaning for Simons as a transformational substance, a fluid bridge between realms—and many a Hip Pocket show has featured an airy blue cloth representing the sea, a river, a lake. (One of Johnny and Diane Simons’ daughters, in fact, is puppeteer and playwright Lake Simons.) This time the lake is a rippling blue square, settling in folds at the feet of souls who come to its edge, ready—or not—to cross over its waves to whatever comes next.
Fishing for souls by the enchanted lake is Catfish Charlie, played by the impressively wraith-like Michael Joe Goggans. Charlie has his eye on old Jim Momo (Jimmy Joe), who lives by the lake with his wife Angel Puss (Julie Ballew). But is it time for Momo to take the plunge—to let Sylvie (a magnetic, come-hither Carmen Scott) and her silver snake (quite a beastie, a stage-sized puppet danced along by a crew of several cast members) guide his spirit toward rebirth? Simons’ handles age with a quiet tenderness, expressed beautifully in Ballew’s dancing, a balletic expression of love and worry by Momo’s wife that ends in an astonishing, emotionally intimate pose that enfolds her husband.
Ma Nature (a genial Peggy Bott Kirby) and her minions step lightly around the angsty humans, who don’t know what they do, that “death is the center of a long life” and not the end. The subject must be much on Simons’ mind; the show’s dedication remembers Hip Pocket folk who’ve passed recently.
In a riveting moment, old Momo comes face-to-face with young Momo (Brian Welton Cook), the self he was and may be again after shuffling off the mortal coil. We completely understand the wide-eyed stare they exchange as they circle each other: confronted with our past and future, who of us would believe we were ever that young, or would become that old?
Simons directs and choreographs, and his lyrics are vivid whether he’s in a blunt or poetic vein: “The old man was tired….” “When I think of my days….” “A blue heron fluttered past….” The sizeable ensemble cast sings and moves with strength and energy, and a few (though unnamed in the program) do surprisingly well with solo spots. And a half-dozen Sylphs whirl, light-footed and ever-young, through the action—they are joy, and warmth, and the promise of life everlasting.
And the music: Kobetich’s original score is astonishing, moving from country twang to dig-deep blues to a driving, ecstatic Moroccan beat that carries us along on a wave of exuberance. Kobetich has some fine solo riffs on guitar; and with Harris Kirby’s great mandolin and Eddie Dunlap’s excellent and ever-shifting percussion—he’s a one-man sound studio—they make an onstage trio to remember.
Part Whitman-esque riff—we’re all part of the continuum of life—with a touch of Polyphonic Spree (must be the flowy white robes), The Enchanted Lake gives off a serene vibe that seems made to unfurrow brows and heal hearts. And, as always, you can come early for live music and a Rahr or Shiner Bock before the show, and drift back for more conviviality after.