Animal Engine Theatre Company, a New York City-based devising theater company, embarks on a tour of the great American Midwest to perform its latest work, "Petunia and Chicken" at middle and high schools in South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. The show will be accompanied by free theater workshops for eager young students.

"Petunia and Chicken" will be performed at public schools in 13 cities over the course of five weeks. The theater group will be in Harmony on Thursday, May 8. At 1 p.m. the play will be presented at the Fillmore Central High School gym with grades seven through 12. An evening performance, at 7:30 p.m., will be offered at the JEM Theatre, with a free-will admission and concessions available that evening.

The event is being funded by the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council Opportunity Grant Program and sponsored by Fillmore Central Schools and the Harmony Arts Board.

Inspired by the works of Midwest author Willa Cather, "Petunia and Chicken" is an epic story of love and loss as big as the prairie itself. Petunia, an indomitable immigrant girl determined to tame the wild land around her, meets Chicken, a right smart boy with dreams of great adventures. As the joys of their youth give way to the harsh realities of adulthood, they struggle to stay together. Sprawling fields of wheat, bustling train stations, rain-soaked kisses, wind-blown hair, and the rest of Petunia and Chicken's world are all created by two performers with just a hat, a scarf and song.

"Petunia and Chicken" is created and performed by Animal Engine Theatre Company co-artistic directors Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher, who met while training at the London International School for the Performing Arts. The play is directed by frequent collaborator Melinda Jean Ferraraccio, a founding member of award-winning Brass Tacks Theatre Company in New York City.

"We made this show while Carrie and I were engaged to be married, so we definitely had love on our minds, and we were looking for some great source material to express those feelings on stage," says Karim of the show's inception.

Carrie suggested Willa Cather, whose books she had read in school while growing up in Lincoln, Neb. They read all three of the books in Cather's so-called Prairie Trilogy: "O Pioneers!," "My Antonia" and "Song of the Lark," and synthesized the different characters, words, images and plotlines with their own imaginations to create a brand new story.