22 January 2007

"Ja, Bipsy, Nein"

Chicago was wonderful. I'd like to blame jetlag for my persistent grogginess today. The hotel (the W Lakeshore, courtesy of James' office, which included this item on the room service menu: "Fantasy - strawberries, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, disposable camera, plastic sheets" ($50) in their all-out sensory assault, aimed at getting you laid) was swank, my meetings went swimmingly, and the city is lovely, with the pretty, charmy architecture of Providence, but in real-city scale. Definitely somewhere I could live. (Especially if there are any fancy jobs for me at any of the fancy theatres out there.) And that's what I did on my summer vacation.

Yesterday afternoon we (the roommates and I, slowly transitioning back into not doing everything always together) saw Famous Puppet Death Scenes, part of the Public's Under the Radar festival. I think I've said before that I love puppet theatre. The Fortune Teller at Here was one of the best theatre pieces I saw last year. FPDS, as I'll call it, reaffirms that love. It's not as polished or cohesive as The Fortune Teller, but it wasn't trying to be. It's exactly what it sounds like it is, a collection of puppet death scenes, except for the fact that they're not actually famous (yet) - they purport to be collected by one Nathanial Tweak, a puppet himself, though all the scenes were written by the (fabulous, apparently) folks at the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. From the Old Trout website:

The Old Trouts promise to cure your fear of death; no more anxiety about difficult choices, no more dreading birthdays, no more desperate pleas for immortality through fame, art, or progeny. Through a collection of famous scenes culled from the absolute best puppet shows in history, including Edward’s Last Meal, from The Ballad of Edward Grue by Norman Strake, DungBeetle’s Lament, from Flap Flap Flap by Lizzie Fook, The Last Dance, from Henrique! by Kevin Farquartson, and the unforgettable Bipsy’s Mistake, from Bipsy and Mumu Go to the Zoo by Fun Freddy, the Old Trouts will deconstruct your traumatized psyche and reconstruct you so that death means nothing to you anymore. In a way, we promise ever-lasting life. Through a puppet show. That’s right.

Tweak, a vaguely Einsteiny and very beautifully crafted puppet (now visible to the left - like masks, the real magic of puppets is how they come alive in motion), curates the assemblage of scenes, and, quite movingly, actually, performs the last, "The Perfect Death Scene," which is of course not as perfectly elegant or orchestrated as any of the preceding excerpted scenes. His laughable attempts to convey the metaphysical import of the death scenes actually end up carrying some weight, adding up to a moving ending. The preceding scenes, though, were (varyingly) wonderful. Funny, beautiful (the artistry and design in puppet theatre might exceed anything I've seen on a stage for humans), clever - and all of the clowning and gags coexisting beautifully with the existential underpinnings (or overlay). Unfortunately, yesterday's performance was the last, but hopefully I'm getting across some of how good good puppet theatre can be. It's serious theatre, real art. And when it's good, it's really, really good. Although Improbable is still my number one circus to run away to join, I'd like to add "puppet theatre" to the list, and "puppeteer" to the list of jobs I wish I held.

[Update: Famous Puppet Death footage here.]

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