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
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 with a projection of cuneiform on stone. The mystery of this text, presented without explanation, relieves us of the responsibility to understand the myth rationally. Leyly & Majnun is mystical theater, mysterious and universal. - Steve Capra September 2019
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 features resemble Jair
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
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