The Catamounts present a world premiere in Boulder

The Catamounts new production, a world premiere titled One Way-Back Day, kicks off at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center with an aged Black woman in a rocking chair telling the audience she’s 110 years old. This is Colette Brown as Lettice, a woman who’s seen a lot in her day but who now says her only purpose is telling the children bedtime stories.

There are worse jobs in life, she seems to suggest, harkening back to tales of the slave days and the relative peace of today. A cantankerous old woman with a tiny, creaky voice, Lettice is nonetheless committed to her job, and the stage soon fills with six other actors who proceed to act out a number of different stories based on Black American folk and fairy tales.

Written by Tresha Farris with help from six others (see sidebar), One Way-Back Day is an homage to a group of less-familiar bedtime tales compared to, say, those from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. They’re similarly dark and magical, but seem more geared to entertain or elicit a laugh than teach a lesson. They’re also a bit short on denouement, with many of them seeming to climax and sorta fizzle (at least one on purpose).

Collette Brown as Lettice confront the witch Boo Hag (Tresha Farris)

Nonetheless, the tales are fun to watch unfold in and of themselves, and under the direction of Alicia “Lisa” Young, it’s a fine cast having a grand time acting them out. Farris herself has the plum role of “Boo Hag,” a somewhat conflicted witch with a counting fixation and a bad habit of sucking people’s souls out of their body as they sleep. Her relationship with Lettice is a sort of back-and-forth, love-hate kinda thing that forms the nexus of the action as the two trade stories.

Accompanied by inventive multi-instrumentalist Satemu Aakhu, the stories that unfold form a lively, often funny and occasionally rather weird collection. There’s one about a lonely woman pining for a daughter who gets one in the form of a talking yam that takes human shape. Another features a fisherman’s daughter (Shanae Adams) who falls in love with a fish played by Peter Trinh. This may have been my favorite, as it ended with the pair blowing bubbles — what fish do to show they’re happy, the fish tells us.

Adams is also charming as a young girl who sells her soul to a junior devil-in-training (Trinh again) in exchange for a refilling of the pail of milk she’s just spilled and a cleaned-up dress.

As Boo Hag and Lettice spar with one another, the dynamic between them begins to change as the witch works to convince her she’s not all bad. That turns out to be mostly true, although how she is absolved of the whole soul-sucking thing isn’t clear.

There’s a parallel story in the real world where Lettice has an estranged sister right up the street, and it seems as if their eventual reunion is meant to be the bow around what’s otherwise a scattered assortment of tales.

Despite featuring a good deal of comic bits and frenzied action, One Way-Back Day moves rather slowly in places. It’s also over-long, clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours with a brief intermission. Young and the cast find a lot to mine in these stories, and there are a number of nice moments throughout. But the unsatisfying endings and absence of connective tissue tying it all together is problematic, and the length makes it that much more apparent.

Looking at the number of contributors to the piece alongside Farris makes me wonder if there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen to form a cohesive whole. But even if this one doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its parts, it’s a welcome intro to a story tradition with a rich history in America.

Shanae Adams with Peter Trinh as the fish