Showing posts from October, 2019

Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes

Every second year for ten days in September the small Renaissance city of Charleville-Mezieres in northeastern France hosts Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes - The World Festival of Puppetry . You don’t know what it means to be festive until you’ve come to this event! The town is filled with people of all ages - many senior folks, and always sober - enjoying the cornucopia of puppetry events spread out before them. It’s terrific, with shows, internships for children, workshops for puppeteers, street performers - everything a festival needs! The 2019 event was the 20th biannual, and I was lucky enough to be there with my critic’s notebook. The opening event was Place des anges , a pageant presented in the beautiful old town square. Brightly lit acrobats - white angels - dropped white feathers on the crowd. Angelic indeed! It was marred only by the hyper-amplified base of techno-music or whatever it was. Aside from the scheduled performances, the streets of

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Famous Puppet Death Scenes Old Trout Puppet Workshop (Canada) treats us to a mostly wordless piece called Famous Puppet Death Scenes . It consists of perhaps 16 short, unrelated vignettes in a puppet proscenium, each about two minutes long and each depicting the oh-so-tragic death of a puppet. E.g.: - In a recurrent motif, a poor fellow at the opera is repeatedly pummeled by a huge fist, as much as he tries to avoid it;   - An innocent boy is lured into a villain’s home by a lollipop - and eats the evil old man; - Puppets (puppets of what?) on a German game show have to choose the Ja door or Nein door - and either way, the ogre eats them;  - In a crowning jewel, an old woman returns home to find her husband’s suicide, so she shoot her self; her son comes home and sees what's happened and then shoots himself; his son comes home and does the same; the old husband comes home and we see that it's all been a trick; the old lady comes to life and sees her livi

La potion de reincarnation

La potion de reincarnation La potion de reincarnation ( The Potion of Reincarnation ) is a brilliant puppet show from Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company (Taiwan), directed by Cheng Chiayin, presented in Chinese. It’s absolutely a masterstroke of puppetry.  In Buddhist-Taoist mythology, a soul is reborn only after meeting Old Lady Meng and drinking from her cup of forgetfulness. In this play, a woman is reincarnated three times without finding happiness. The show begins with fingers as shadow puppets, and the sort of classical Chinese music that’s like the sound of nature. But mostly the puppets are small, delicate hand puppets elaborately dressed. The puppeteers dress them on stage with ritualistic, meticulous care. What’s more, there’s intermittent singing throughout. We can see that this is a ceremony . At one point, a puppeteer tosses a hand puppet and another catches it just by just placing his hand under the mitt as it falls. Some scenes are spooky, heavy with shad

Leyly & Majnun

Leyly & Majnun Leyly & Majnun , produced by Baku Marionette Theatre (Azerbiajan) is an exquisite marionette opera written by Uzeyir Hajibeyli, one of the great Azerbaijani composers, and directed by Tarlan Gorchu. It sources Western and Eastern musical traditions. Its story is based on a narrative poem written by Muhammad Fuzuli in the 16th century, itself based on a legend centuries older. The story echoes Romeo and Juliette , an ageless tale. The small marionettes are gorgeous, elaborately designed by Tengiz Khalvashi. The music, recorded by two musicians and singers, is lovely and varied, including even something like a march, but most notably graced by a haunting solo female voice, nearly wailing in, I assume, Azerbaijani.  The seven puppeteers, in black, are part of the presentation. They sometimes move with slow deliberacy. To call this production a show is to trivialize it - it’s a ritual . The screens upstage are beautiful as well, and the play ends w


Garage Garage  is a wordless play from Cirka Teater (Norway) directed by Espen Dekko, produced on a formidable set by Gilles Berger. It calls itself “objects theatre”, and the two mechanics we find tinkering in their garage are indeed joined on stage by a crowd of objects large and small, electrical and automatic: pulleys, levers, wheels, cogs, dolls, a rubber chicken… They’re all put industriously to work, one action triggering the next. The workmen have a chicken, and they savor its one egg with relish. Then the chicken lays a second egg, unexpectedly, which the pair eat as well. This second meal, however, puts them in an over-energized state, and they excite their inorganic mechanism so much that it breaks down, literally blowing a fuse. Garage is fascinating to watch, a cornucopia for sight, complex and kinetic. But without program notes the circumstances of the wordless play - the circumstances surrounding the eggs - would be unclear. Still, we wouldn’t care much - we


Bloop The puppets in Bloop! , from director Pep Bou (Spain) are bubbles! The two characters blow thousands of them - some with smoke or something in them, some looking like suds, some large enough to envelope the actors, all beautifully lit. Our man stage left is referred to in the program as an “alchemist”; he may as well be a hippie - lots of hair, a beard. The gentleman right is a business type, bald, wearing a hat, often on the phone. They each have a small table, but otherwise the stage, with its black back wall, is bare. They vocalize but never speak. Our hippie friend intrudes on the businessman’s space with his annoying bubbles, but during the course of the play teaches him how to enjoy life - it’s not long before they’re both blowing pipes and waving wands. This unsubstantial premise is so well exploited that the play is absolutely delightful - we don’t stop enjoying it for a minute. The actors wordless expression of the characters evolving relationship relati


Intranauts Intranauts comes from Green Ginger (UK) directed by Emma Williams. In this play, woman travels in a large, complex vehicle - a micro-vehicle - inside a man’s body, attending to maintenance. She has her own work load, but he can make requests. We meet the gentleman in a smoking jacket at the opening, with “Hello”, as he addresses his computer screen, which is a scrim. He speaks an upper class dialect throughout. Then we meet the young lady in charge of his care, who speaks with decidedly lower class diction. She’s a whiz, though, and when an arm comes off she goes into a sort of inter-body space walk to care for it (the puppeteers are handling the vehicle and its appendages). On the way, she bumps into a blood cell and, I think, a virus, but she succeeds. The central event in the piece is an unexpected malfunction of the vehicle that signals its host’s demise in a-certain-number-of minutes. We watch the electronic display count down as she punches in the cod

La poussiere et la couronne

La poussiere et la couronne La poussiere et la couronne ( Dust and the Crown) is paper theater, presented by the company Yase Tama and its writer/director Zahara Sabri. Its paper puppets are animated by two puppeteers dressed in black (Saeed Abbak and Fahimeh Barotchi) seen against the endless, backless black of the stage. An actor voices the recorded text. The paper puppets - full figures, profiles, crowns - are connected to a grid of elastic bands on the floor, and this grid itself becomes a sort of puppet when the puppeteers raise it at the end. It’s all meticulously lit. The story concerns ambition, murder and power, and there are many references to Hamlet and Macbeth . I missed a lot of the French, but there’s no mistaking the recurrent phrase, spoken with grief and resignation: “Je suis mort”. What’s more, there’s no mistaking the Shakespearean allusions. How could anyone mistake Ophelia or the Hamlet’s poison cup? Sometimes the puppeteers become the characters, s

Macunaima Gourmet

Macunaima Gourmet Macunaima Gourmet is a large puppet show - the cast is large; the stage is large; the puppets are large, complex and beautiful. It comes from the company Pigmaliao escultura que mexe (Brasil). It’s poetic and political, using both puppets and human actors. This is puppet as cultural symbol. The puppets are varied. Some are marionettes. One actor has a puppet of a man tied in front of him; another has a puppet in front of him from the waist up; the human-sized free-standing puppets is sometimes manipulated by multiple puppeteers. There are eight or nine in the cast. The story is based on Mário de Andrade’s 1928 novel Macunaima , and I think that it expands its story to suit the play’s theme of exploitation. The title character is a native, born “the hero of the people”, and he’s found in Brazilian myths. In Macunaima Gourmet he’s played by a large brownish puppet who’s fattened up and sold as canned meat. He’s ultimately fed to an obese puppet whose

Marathon Petit Jean

Marathon Petit Jean What would  puppetry festival be without children’s shows? Marathon Petit Jean , from Compagnie Mariska (France) was a wonderful children’s show, and it made me kid again with its good-natured silliness. Our little boy, Petit Jean, is at The Louvre with has Pappy. There’s a thief there too, and he can’t decide what to steal (The Mona Lisa perhaps?). At any rate, he’s chased away when the polar bear comes to life. A statue of a girl comes to life as well. Petit Jean paints a picture and it all ends happily. Marathon Petit Jean is presented in a brightly lit proscenium with gay yellow backdrop framed by fabric with ecstatic hand prints on it. The proper French children sat in wrapt attention - they didn’t even fidget - and when the occasion demanded they yelled “A gauche!” or “A droite!”. Your critic, usually the soul of reserve, might have done some yelling myself.  There are nearly 25 shows starring Petit Jean, and they’ve travelled the world with