In September, 2019, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Here are some reviews.
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- Steve Capra
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’re having such a good time watching these two.
The extended metaphor is fascinating. The machine isn’t threatening, as in Chaplin’s Modern Times. Objects don’t overwhelm people in this garage. Men are in control, but they don’t recognize the potential of mechanics. How they rejuvenate the garage after the blow-out is unclear - but we see nonetheless that it’s life-affirming and redemptive.
Garage stresses objects, but what animates it is the superb moment-to-moment life of the actors. The characters’ unspoken experience is perfectly clear because the actors (Gilles Berger and Paal Viken Bakke) have analyzed the play so meticulously. What’s more, their expressive flow of emotion highlights the lifeless constancy of the mechanism looming about them. Bravo for Cirka Teater! - Steve Capra September 2019
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 with a projection of cu
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 living husband and shoots him, an
Photo: Charleville-Mezieres = 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 shado