Jordcirkus, whose shows are cooperative endeavors, has ingeniously integrated the stories by having the traders reading The Duel and identifying with the feuding generals. As the generals advance inevitably toward their climactic confrontation, so, too, do the traders develop personality conflicts.
In the end, the action-oriented military men, accustomed to violence and death, reach an awkward accord that keeps them alive, whereas the relationship between the "civilized" traders culminates in an almost offhand murder and a suicide.
This is theater with a social message, but Jordcirkus does not overwhelm the theatergoer with its politics and philosophy. What does overwhelm is the company's stagecraft. The acting by Chris Torch and Juan Rodriguez and the brilliant scenes created by director Marika Lagercrantz will remain in the mind long after ruminations about the nature of man and society have vanished.
Torch and Rodriguez are superb performers, both individually and as an ensemble that interacts flawlessly. Their characters come to life with compelling intensity.
In Torch's General Feraud, the theatergoer can feel the obsessive hatred he has for his adversary, Rodriguez's somewhat reasonable D'Hubert. In Kayerts, one of the traders, Rodriguez creates a marvelous character who is physically awkward and absurdly overcivilized yet capable of taking the life of Torch's somewhat reasonable Carlier almost without realizing what he is doing.
The tuneless music by Nils Personne, who performs on a variety of instruments, punctuates the show emphatically, and the lighting by Rainer Reitz is uncommonly effective.
Coyote is a mythic character of Indian folklore. Although he seems to have the shape of an animal, he acts like a man, in all his contradictory nature. He is a trickster, who gets tricked himself; he is a liar, but there is truth in much of what he does; he is raunchy and crude at times, sensitive and perceptive at others.
Although there is not a great deal of style or import to the stories as adapted from Indian sources, the actor, assisted by director Mathew Schwarzman, makes them visually and theatrically compelling. His inventive, highly animated presentation doesn't allow the audience's attention to wander.
In one story, a group of cowboys wants Coyote to show them just how great a liar and trickster he is. Coyote obliges by talking them out of a valuable horse and saddle and riding away. The upshot is that Coyote knows nothing of horses or how to take care of them. He does not tether the animal, and it wanders back to its owner.
As a fable it is not much competition for Aesop, but the ordinary nature of the story and the anticlimactic ending pass almost unnoticed because Hayes so involves the audience in the telling.
When Coyote jumps on the horse, his claws startle the animal. Simulating a bucking horse, Hayes sits on a chair and jumps it across the playing space. Coyote rides away, and Hayes, his white basketball sneakers moving at a gallop, circles the audience and returns to the stage.
Hayes' constant, pertinent movement and expressive tale-telling are a pleasure. But his characterization of Coyote is as puzzling as the character.
Dressed in jeans, a brightly colored straw hat and a patchwork vest, the bearded Hayes looks more like an eccentric cowboy than either a coyote or an Indian. And his attempts to connect the stories to the tragedy of the passing of the Indian way of life, one of Hayes' main purposes in creating the show, don't work very well.
Coyote is too irrepressible to stand still for such portentousness.
The Duel and Coyote also will be performed at the Painted Bride tonight and tomorrow night.