The story is adapted from a centuries-old Sufi teaching tale that depicts the adventures of a young woman named Fatima, an independent and resourceful person whose faith in life is sorely tested by a series of disasters she undergoes as she emerges into adulthood. The story expresses the philosophy that positive experiences can be drawn from even the most unexpected and tragic events which fate throws our way. The plot also affirms the belief that work which contributes to the well-being of the community can lift one's spirits even in the darkest times.
The show opens with "The Tale Begins", a song in which the company informs the audience that looms, rope and masts are important elements in the tale. Musically, the main theme of the song is presented as a round, symbolizing the cyclical nature of the story as a whole.
Fatima, her elder sister and their parents then sing "Bring The Loom", about their busy lives as weavers, in which they must make cloth, market the goods and maintain the household business. The lyrics themselves interweave in rhyme, reflecting the nature of the very tasks being depicted. At the end of the song, Fatima and her family embark on a ship to take her sister to the sister's wedding. The ship is wrecked, however, and all are lost except Fatima, who is washed up on the shores of a strange land. Fatima is picked up by a family of rope makers. They decide to take her in, but she will have to learn their trade to earn her keep. Fatima is reluctantly persuaded to join the family in "Twist The Rope", a song which uses a blues style to explain the process of braiding twine into rope.
Fatima, of course, is morose at the loss of her birth family and uncertain about her new profession. After prodding by her adopted mother, she decides to attempt cheering herself up in "I'm Working On My Smile", in which she is joined by the rope makers' son Yan, to whom she is attracted.
But once again fate intervenes. Fatima is so good at business, her adopted father decides to take her on a trip abroad. They board a ship, which is lost at sea. Fatima is again washed ashore, but this time she is sold into slavery in the household of a mast-maker. She has no choice but to learn a new skill. In "Carve The Mast," other slaves explain the hard work involved to Fatima. In time, the slave master frees her and places her on a ship to drum up markets elsewhere. For the third time, a shipwreck occurs and Fatima finds herself in yet another new country.
Fatima is brought before the king of the country and is told that there is a curse on the land that can only be lifted by a woman who comes from the sea to build a strange object called a tent. At this point, Fatima is close to total dispair from continually losing anyone who has ever meant anything to her. She agrees to build the tent, using all her previously acquired skills, but only if the king agrees to kill her at the end. As she proceeds, however, the work of making the tent with the king's son and the growing joy of the people around them lead her to conclude, in "Raise The Tent", that life is worth living after all. Fatima and the prince get married and establish a tent-making business, as all ends well with a brief reprise of the opening song.
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