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'The Case of the Vanishing Firefish' combines environmental themes with a mindbending voyage

EnActe Arts presents a fantasy adventure for families this weekend at Cubberley

What do bioluminescent phytoplankton, a talking dolphin, the Dalai Lama and a spunky heroine who worships Hermione Granger have in common? They're all elements of a new, family-friendly play coming to Palo Alto's Cubberley Theatre.

What started as a whimsical bedtime story for tech entrepreneur Ajay Chowdhury's daughters became first a novel -- "Ayesha and the Firefish" -- and now a stage play, "The Case of the Vanishing Firefish," receiving its world premiere with EnActe Arts, adapted by EnActe founder Vinita Sud Belani and Raashina Humayun.

It tells the story of Ayesha, an intelligent 10-year-old living in London whose yearning for adventure and intrepid spirit leads her on a quest through the ocean, into outer space and more to save the planet from environmental destruction. Along her journey, she must follow clues ala "The DaVinci Code," solve puzzles, meet characters including the aforementioned dolphin, a snarky snail and the "Queen of the Seas," and grapple with complex scientific and philosophical concepts.

"This play has everything that touches my heart as a computer scientist, as a theater maker and as a woman," Belani told the Weekly, comparing the plucky female protagonist and fantastic elements to Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series and her personal favorite book, "Alice in Wonderland."

"The Case of the Vanishing Firefish" will include colorful video projections from production designer and film director David Murakami, music by Randy Armstrong and choreography by Maria Basile, co-artistic director of sjDANCEco.

EnActe Arts, which has a mission of promoting diverse perspectives and global (and in particular South Asian) stories using local talent, has dedicated its current season to presenting strong female role models.

"I became an engineer at a time when less than 3% of all engineers were women,” Belani stated in a press release. "I believe that if norms are holding you back, it is your duty to question them, and that is the ethos of what we do at EnActe. For me a play is only successful if it generates robust breakfast table discussion the next morning on the subject matter addressed within."

Performances run Friday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 1, at 2 and 6 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 2, at 3 and 6 p.m. at Cubberley Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $15-$50 and available at Eventbrite.

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Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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