Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The festival's acts over the years have often been political, and, pretty unsurprisingly, that politics is reliably left. While the approach is sometimes heavy-handed (especially when you're preaching to the converted -- I mean, we're talking puppetry fans here), it's cool that the fest gives artists free rein.
This year's most explicitly political act at the good old Brew House theater was famed Vermont-based puppeteer Amy Trompetter's Wobby Bucket Brigade, here a collaboration with Chatham U students in a performance class taught by Tavia LaFollette. Four skits adapted chapters of Howard Zinn's iconic People's History of the United States, with pro-labor, anti-imperialist takes on Joe Hill, Columbus and our need for national heroes. It was energetic, with some nice woodcut-style artwork, but too old-school agitprop for me.
More inventive was Black Sheep regular Beth Nixon's "Disaster Muffin," a riotous take on our current catastrophe psychology in which the Philadelphian's principal puppet was herself, outfitted with a prosthetic womb. Quieter was Philly's Shoddy Puppet Company, a three-person troupe whose ingenious TV-sized stage and easygoing humor were good vehicles for its blend of whimsy, Hans Christian Andersen and real-life narrative; visually, a single shadow-puppet sequence about a tin soldier's picaresque journey surrendered new meanings with each story, with subtle insights into social class and exploitation.
Fare Feather Family's gypsy-troupe staging aided "The Old Man and His Peanut Tree," a winning parable about a grouch. Major Arcana's "Project Majo Shojo" took potshots at Catholicism, but was mostly a talky, well-performed depiction of the creative process behind a comic book inspired by the Japanese "magic girl" genre. (Think Sailor Moon.) Marionette incarnations of two schoolgirls were especially sharp. Meanwhile, locals Things That Stick offered joyfully unclassifiable weirdness with "Shoe," in which 20-foot-tall bunnies (made from post-consumer materials, with humans inside) danced, fought and humped.
My favorites, though, were Laura Heit's "The Matchbox Show" and Claire Dolan's "Line and Colour." On sets shorter than her index finger -- projected big onto a video screen -- Los Angeleno Heit stages macabre and wry black-out skits, some with puppets made of matches; she brought down the house with "27 Pictures of Myself Naked." Dolan's "Line and Colour" was a beautifully atmospheric, wonderfully theatrical adaptation of "The Road to Brodie," an Isaac Babel story about war in the Russian countryside. The stick puppets roamed gorgeously lit little sets, to live musical accompaniment and ruminations on bees, Cossacks and the crucified Christ.
Pre-show, Vermont's Dolan had also scored with a performance in the lobby. It was a salty spoken-sung narrative (illustrated with big comics-style drawings) about a go-go-dancer/nurse and the health-care system titled "Where's My Fucking Bailout?" In her two performances, Dolan showed how to be pointed, and subtle, and both at once.
Tags: Program Notes