Theater

The Lobster Chronicles

Puppet theater can have it all—drama, music, humor, even humans. But its chief pleasures are visual. "The Puppet Parlor," one evening in HERE's "American Living Room" festival, lays out the medium's surprising range with snippets of six wildly diverse—and delightful—pieces.

To make broad, maybe unfair, divisions, the shows fall into two camps. One whips up cartoonish figures and homespun props, commented on by verbal and literary devices; the other aims for high art and exquisite craft. In the folksier category, Lake Simons's What's Inside the Egg employs fingers twisted into chicken heads, which jut comically through holes in a sheet. An old biddy (Simons) chucks them affectionately under their chins and—cluck, cluck—out pop hands delivering eggs. It's a hoot.

In Voicecolumnist Toni Schlesinger's Lobster Village America! Part One, our author narrates as Inspector Mist, investigating a possible ticking bomb in a New England hamlet. The protagonist, represented hilariously by a puff of cotton on a stick, slinks through quick-change sets of miniatures, cardboard, and found objects. With a tone poised somewhere between Inspector Clouseau and a bemused teen-queen, she wonders, among other deep questions, "Why are there no day-of-the-week panties in Lobster Village?" For the answers, watch for future episodes.

In a send-up of another stripe, Chris Green and Matt Acheson's The Hanging Archive pours forth a witty musical accompaniment to The Lily of Belgium, a 1916 Russian propaganda film. On-screen, a hoard of evil beetles in insect-size tanks and jeeps attacks the doomed flower, and while cricket orchestras fiddle, live musicians—on the Spanish guitar, stand-up bass, kazoo-like buck call, and toy piano—break into a laugh-provoking polka; real bows draw melancholy and martial strains as tiny swords hack at the hapless blossom.

More intricately sculpted and detailed puppets and sets are the focus of the other offerings. Christopher Williams's Faerie Parade presents a sumptuous ballet by elvish marionettes shimmering in white, silver, and lavender. As these otherworldly beings dance through birth and first love, Williams instills their universe with wonder.

Gorgeous color and light also inspirit Isolation Island, by Sam Hack. As this papier-mâché island slowly twirls, generations pass, and dogs shipwrecked here mutate into odd fishlike creatures, while coconuts glow and tiny semi-canines swing their webbed feet in a droll display. And in Erin Eagar's evocative Savage Nursery, a brooding bird with pointed beak and glassy red eyes tends her young fluffballs with snapping beaks to sinister music. Raising her neck, she reveals a woman's face. At once predator, mother, witch, and clown, she energizes a beautiful and unsettling tableau.

Oddly, Savage Nursery is one of four pieces this evening involving eggs. Coincidence? Dunno. But maybe they're a metaphor for the puppeteers' incredible imaginations, which hatch fantastic creations as they break out of the limits of reality and theatrical conventions. —Francine Russo

 
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