A husband and wife acting duo from the Animal Engine Theatre Company delighted Harmony residents and Fillmore Central High School students with a witty and humorous play, "Petunia and Chicken,” last week. Here the two actors, Carrie Brown and Karim Mausher, take a “selfie” with several students behind them.  COURTESY OF ANIMAL ENGINE THEATRE COMPANY
A husband and wife acting duo from the Animal Engine Theatre Company delighted Harmony residents and Fillmore Central High School students with a witty and humorous play, "Petunia and Chicken,” last week. Here the two actors, Carrie Brown and Karim Mausher, take a “selfie” with several students behind them. COURTESY OF ANIMAL ENGINE THEATRE COMPANY
Theater can take on many forms. It can involve a lot of actors to a very small number. It can include a large amount of props, lights, sound and sets or almost none at all. Through excess or minimalism, a sense of creativity by actors can result in a performance filled with imagery and meaning.

Both residents of Harmony and students of the Fillmore Central High School experienced a play with only two actors and virtually no props, but tremendous creativity on Thursday, May 8.

The professional theater artists, Carrie Brown and Karim Mausher of the Animal Engine Theatre Company based in New York City, stopped off in Harmony for two public performances of their original play, "Petunia and Chicken," during their tour throughout the Midwest.

The plot of the story was based on the three major works of Willa Cather, "My Antonia," "The Song of the Lark" and "O Pioneers!"

The play borrowed certain text, characters and storylines from all three works of literature to become a composite of Cather's main novels. Similar to the characters in "My Antonia," "Petunia and Chicken" followed the lives of a family of Bohemian immigrants and their neighbors in the state of Nebraska.

The play opens with an old man narrating a story from his past, beginning in the 1880s. The young heroine of the story, Petunia, befriended a young man, Chicken, who lived with his grandparents on a neighboring farm. He taught her how to speak English and spent a great deal of time with her. He would encourage her to become a singer and accompany her playing the spoons. Over the years, their friendship blossomed into something more, while her father struggled to keep the farm afloat.

But when Petunia's father died, she was torn between leaving with the one she loves and the obligation to take care of the land that, in effect, had killed her father. Chicken was also torn between his love for Petunia and following his dream of leaving Nebraska and becoming a famous explorer. In the end, Chicken left by himself after giving her one of his spoons and promising to return.

Several years passed and Chicken had traveled to places like the Klondike in Alaska, pearl diving, exploring in the pyramids and finally reaching London. While there, he remembered Petunia and returned home.

Things had changed, however. His grandparents were older and Petunia's farm had flourished, after much difficulty. Having been left with tremendous debts from her father, she had struggled to pay off the loan. Her mother eventually died and was buried the same day the note was due. Left with no choice, Petunia was forced to marry the banker to save the farm, though she kept hoping and praying Chicken would return in time.

Tremendously shocked and hurt, Chicken rushed home to his grandparents to learn what happened to Petunia. After hearing her story, he determined to stay for a few months to assist his family in the harvest, all the while attempting to forget who was across the field.

The day Chicken was to leave again, his grandmother asked him to deliver pies to the church where an event was taking place. At one point, a friend told Chicken of the game of each couple kissing their sweethearts in a dark tent. Since Chicken had no sweetheart, he was asked to blow out the candle in the tent.

Unbeknownst to Chicken, Petunia already was in the tent. After finding her, Chicken blew out the candle and kissed her, in spite of the fact she was married. Her husband found them together and in a drunken rage shot Petunia who had stepped in front of Chicken. Afterwards he ran away and was never seen again.

That was not the end of the story, however. The narrator revealed Petunia had lived. The bullet had been caught by the precious spoon Chicken had given her the day he left to follow his dream. In fact, she and Chicken got married after her first husband disappeared and eventually had 17 children.

The husband and wife duo demonstrated how enjoyable a play could be with minimal props and sets. Utilizing only a hat, two spoons and a shawl, the actors portrayed more than 10 different characters, outdoors and inside tents.

They even became a prop for each other. For example, when Brown pretended she was cooking, Muasher leaned over to pretend to be her cooking counter.

As previously described, the whole play combined certain text and themes from Cather's three novels. The fact that Petunia's family is from Bohemia comes from "My Antonia." Petunia was left the farm after her father died and it eventually flourished. This came from "O Pioneers!" In addition, the fact that Petunia and Chicken were neighbors, he went away and one day came back years later and married Petunia also comes from that novel.

The twist comes with Petunia's husband shooting her when he found them together. This comes from "O Pioneers!" but in the novel it was the younger brother who was found with his sweetheart trapped in a loveless marriage. Both were killed by the husband in a drunken rage. This was the area where Brown and Mausher diverged from the novels. They added the spoon deflecting the trajectory of the bullet and sparing Petunia.

Finally, Petunia's focus on becoming a singer was taken from "Song of the Lark."

While holding a question and answer session at the high school, the actors' uniqueness emerged. The peculiarity of Brown and Mausher is that their plays are researched and created by themselves. They do not look for a script to perform. Everything comes from within them and only two weeks before going on tour will they bring in a director to coach them on things that are not appealing.

"We have been working together for four years, since graduate school in London, and wanted to see if we could rise to the challenge of being creative and acting with almost nothing," Mausher said.

The couple delighted the audience with their creativity and humor. Lori Slindee from the Harmony Arts Board expressed how much of a treat this activity was.

"We have never had any theater people coming here for the arts before," she said. "This is a rare treat."