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
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 Bolsonaro. But nature triumphs: the fat puppet dies from overeating and the ants, the symbol of transcendent nature, carry him off.
It’s opening is stunning: we hear the sounds of the rain forest - rain, chirping - and the forest is bustling with people and creatures, particularly ants. One actress wears a costume with one breast - it’s a reference to the etymology of the word “Amazon”, meaning “without breast”. She is Mother Amazon herself. And there’s a beautiful white bird - an actor on roller skates - that Macunaima rides on (and that later has his wings clipped). The peace of the forest is violated by a fellow on a motorbike delivering food - “Gourmand Eats”.
The symbolism isn’t simplistic; the animals aren’t uniformly benign. There’s plenty of fuel for analysis here. The actors don’t speak much, and when they do they speak a few languages and a muffled gibberish that’s the puppetry equivalent of vocalese.
There’s a large video screen on the back wall of the stage thats serves multiple functions. Sometimes it shows us the forest ants, reflecting the stage. Later it politicizes the fable with scenes of mobs and violence. At the end, we’re presented at the end with a list of exploiting parties, including the Catholic Church, USA and Donald Trump. Finally the cast unrolls a banner saying “Lula Livre”.
Macunaima Gourmet is superb, exemplary work using puppetry’s unique political voice. Viva para Pigmaliao escultura que mexe! - Steve Capra September 2019
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
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