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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Luna Park Project at the Brew House

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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This carnivalesque new performance work by Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn attempts to recreate, or at least revivify the memory of, the fabled amusement park that once occupied a big swath of North Oakland.

Luna Park lasted only a few years before burning to the ground in 1908. The grandly columned entrance was at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Craig Street; the sizable footprint included what's now Pittsburgh Filmmakers' headquarters, among much else.

Cook, Doran and Tom Foran are the crazily energetic and quite skillful performers who use puppetry, stagecraft and vivid imaginations to summon both the parks' mad-visionary creator, Frederick Ingersoll, and the experience of the park itself.

I saw the fast-paced 45-minute show on Saturday (its second performance), and I'd say that whether they actually achieve that goal is less important than the fun of watching them try.

In the makeshift theatrical venue that is the Brew House's Space 101, the performers and their tech team put on a low-budget multimedia spectacular.

Each performer portrays an incarnation of Ingersoll, as does one of Dorn's puppets. It's an attempt to tour the mind of a man who — at a time when few Americans had electric light bulbs in their homes — opened a vast playground featuring some 60,000 of the things. The park also housed wild animals, including a lion whose catastrophic escape provides one of the play's episodes. (One of the puppet-scale sets is pictured here.)

Meanwhile, Cook embodies at least three other characters, putting her saucer eyes and some cartoonishly high vocalisms to good use as a Ingersoll's girlfriend/guinea pig; "Little Luna," a hot-dog-loving park performer; and a phone operator.

Luna Park Project also includes prerecorded music; a short film; and a stereoscopic projection reviving an early form of 3D. (The necessary viewing glasses are provided.) Other collaborators include comics artist Jim Rugg.

The elliptical and nonlinear nature of the narrative means you might emerge with a fuzzy factual understanding of Ingersoll and Luna Park. You should definitely arrive 15 minutes early and scan the wall-mounted exhibit Cook and Dorn have prepared about the man and his creation, featuring old photos and news clippings, plus original artwork. Too, some of the troupe's attempts at a "period" feel seemed to draw more on 1930s screwball film comedies than on however people acted three decades earlier.

Still, The Luna Park Project is well worth your time. (Ticket-buyers get free snacks, including hot dogs.) Cook and Dorn — who often collaborate under the heading of the Society for Miniature Curiosa — bearing watching in the future.

The Luna Park Project continues with four more performances, on Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 11. Tickets are $12.

The Brew House is at 2100 Mary St., on the South Side.

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