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
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
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 relationship is
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