Dead Heads

Existential puppets contemplate the mysteries of animation

It's about death and dying. It's about life and living. It's about love and sex and sickness and violence and murder. It's about interchangeable gender roles. It's about Creation and the Garden of Eden. It's about magic. It's about one hour, 10 minutes.

Roman Paska's Dead Puppet Talk is indeed magical. His handsome puppets spring to life, fall in love, die, and are re-born—not always in that order—with what only seems like the lightest assistance from "puppet walkers" Uta Gebert, Gabriel Hermand-Priquet, and Philippe Rodriguez-Jorda, who cuts an imposing figure, equal parts god, grim reaper, and circus ringmaster. The three dance mechanically around the stage to Richard Termini's spooky, blues-inflected score, as the puppets go about their business. Some wear hoods that recall (unintentionally?) Abu Ghraib.

And then there's the preternaturally somber clown Bill Irwin, who sporadically appears ashen-faced in a video projection, commenting on the proceedings with all the mock pomposity of an academic lecture—something about "puppet mind" and "puppet thought" and "the perpetual struggle to be." Not that he offers much by way of explanation for the lack of plot or character. At least he can milk laughs out of the word puppetlike no one else can.

It's about illusion, Irwin tells us. It's about inanimate objects transcending mortality. Or something like that. I think. Human nature tends to ascribe magical properties to phenomena it can't comprehend. Maybe I have a ways to go to achieve puppet mind.

 
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