Saturday, January 20, 2007

PLAY: "Famous Puppet Death Scenes"

"The Ballad of Edward Grue," in which we learn what happens to little boys who dress up as deer, will shoot you in the funny bone. "Ice Age," in which a cryogenetically frozen man is allowed to die so that the immortal Johnny Depp-lookalike aliens can remember what death means, will warm your insides. "The Swede of Donnylargan," in which suicide is shown to be much like a row of falling dominoes, will make you tumble with glee. But while these Famous Puppet Death Scenes will amuse--with their movable sets, puppet dances, and fragile gunshots--it's "The Last Whale" that will haunt you: the image of a great eye, sunken into a greater gray mass, slowly giving in to the gravity of an unstoppable eyelid. Has there ever been such a tragic, beautiful, poetic (puppet) death on stage before?

The only warning I can give the audience of Famous Puppet Death Scenes is to show up early and sit near the front, as the majority of the work is small and subtle. The exceptions, like a butterfly transformed into a giant bloodsucking monster under the gaze of a magnifying glass (in "La Nature au Naturel") or a scene of domestic violence hidden within the pages of a pop-up book ("Never Say It Again"), are perfect expressions of theatricality, and the Old Trout Puppet Workshop has done a fantastic job of transforming a classic art form into a hip and surprisingly powerful show.

The wide variety of miniature death scenes, tied together by the narration of the Einstein-tufted Nathanial Tweak, range from mocking children's morality plays ("Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel," in which a triangle-shaped puppet learns the difference between "ja" and "nein") to playing with stark Modernist styles ("The Modern Age [Part 3]") and Gothic horror ("The Beast of Muggditch Lane"). I promise: at least one puppet will die in every scene, and, when appropriate, you will laugh.

The final collection is like watching a live animated-shorts festival (there's even a Bill Plympton-like recurring skit, "The Feverish Heart"). Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a series of vivid visual styles, and with only a few of the 20-plus deaths missing the mark ("The Cruel Sea" and "My Stupid Dad"), you can't go wrong with this hour-long show. And believe me, the Grim Reaper's grand finale is not to be missed: you'll leave the theater feeling glad to be alive.

[First posted to New Theater Corps on 1/20]

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