At nine years old, Great Small Works’ International Toy Theater Festival is becoming an institution, even while its monuments are both miniature and ephemeral. Ensconced in the cavernous St. Ann’s Warehouse, spread throughout four playing spaces, the festival itself is ironically expansive in scale.
Program One’s lineup featured artists from all over the map, both geographically and artistically, including Finland’s Puppet Theatre Centre Buoy (whose work, Swamp Songs, seemed less a puppetwork than a visually augmented set of folk songs); Little Blue Moon Theatre of Vallejo, California (whose Mutiny on the Bounty combined cute cut-outs of hula dancers and step-dancing sailors with grating and amateurish song parodies); and Chicago’s Blair Thomas (who performed the “Book of Jonah” section of Moby Dick dressed incongruously—though effectively—as the Devil).
The best part of the presentation is a walk around the Temporary Toy Theater Museum, where among the scores of historic and newly created tiny theaters the viewer can catch a half-dozen busker-ish performances by the likes of London’s Joanna Hruby, whose The Weeping Tree is a sweet fairy tale, and Philadelphia’s Puppetyranny (Leslie Rogers and Zac Palladino), who stage a number of hilarious scenarios in Rogers’s mouth. The bottom line and main takeaway is that this is primarily a designer’s medium; where histrionic ability is occasionally in short supply, charm, beauty and innocence almost never are.