Of her latest work. Diablerie, or the Last Puppet Show , at the Glitter Box Theater on April 26 and 27, Cook says, “The whole thing is sort of designed to be organized chaos.” She plays multiple roles in the play, which is about a mysterious roadside circus called the Diablerie. It unfolds as a lecture, but also as a vaudeville or variety show. There’s a love story. There’s a man who eats chicken heads. There’s a rock concert and a songstress called The Saddest Woman in the World. And it all opens with a song-and-dance number about popcorn, complete with free popcorn for the audience.
But, as Cook says, “Basically, it’s just a lecture about a circus.”
Adding to the sense of “organized chaos” are the multiple methods through which Cook tells the story, including puppetry, animation, music numbers, and outdated technology like a 35mm slide projector. She’s aided by bubblegoth band The Gothees, who provide accompaniment to Cook’s original songs, as well as reading lines and playing “devil boys.”
Originally inspired by Victorian-era diableries — stereoscopic images featuring little demon-filled dioramas — the play has been years in the making. Cook first started working on the show back in 2012, when it served as her graduate thesis during her time studying Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon University.
“It was just an impossible play,” says Cook, adding that it started out as a super visual spectacle with six characters. “People would say this play doesn’t make sense.”
After years of traveling with Miniature Curiosa, a puppetry project she did with former creative partner, Zach Dorn, she revisited the play.
“I decided to make it even more impossible,” she says. “I would do all the parts and do all the tech and also make it a rock show, and I would also wear a leotard and a cape. It’s just the hardest thing I can do right now.”
Cook believes the show satisfies her fascination with the dark and weird, a facet apparent in her past work, including the live-action horror play Birds of America and the self-explanatory Tonight A Clown Will Travel Time.
But as with Diablerie, or the Last Puppet Show, there’s also an innocence to the style of Cook, who calls herself a “truck-driving librarian by day and puppet-maker by night” (she drives the storymobile for literacy nonprofit Reading is FUNdamental).
“I am kind of like a demented child in a universe of bright colors,” says Cook. “So it’s scary, but it’s also very colorful.”
Though she understands Diablerie, or the Last Puppet Show could come off as overwhelming, she hopes audiences are willing to give themselves over to it and “get lost in this ride.”
“I know it’s going to be sort of crazy and confusing, but I hope that they can get on board with me and just fall into the diablerie and eat a lot of popcorn along the way,” says Cook.