New York audiences are well accustomed to seeing nudity on the stage, but witnessing a man’s junk ripen into a rock-solid boner has got to be a first. Before incriminating the Baruch Performing Arts Center for endorsing public lewdness, it should be explained that the character happens to be played by a puppet whose penis resembles an apple core.
The erection occurs about midway through Saga, an entertaining new puppet play by the Obie-winning company Wakka Wakka and the Nordland Visual Theatre about the disastrous impact of Iceland’s banking collapse on the virile Gunnar Oddmunson and his family. The scene is a flashback to the night Gunnar first meets his wife, Helga, puking outside a bar. Despite or because of her advanced state of intoxication, she’s game for a romp in the bushes, where slurping cunnilingus, vigorous sex, and hilarity ensue. Nine months later, their recklessness has earned them a son, and they marry.
Impulsiveness is, naturally, a theme for the couple. With dreams of opening a luxury bed-and-breakfast, they use a seemingly endless supply of borrowed money to purchase a big house, a new Jeep, and a stable of horses (the cast of six puppeteers wear woolly equine costumes). It all comes crashing down, however, when Prime Minister Geir Haarde, lampooned as a teensy chap with a munchkin voice, pops out of a hole in a map of Iceland to declare that the country is in financial freefall. As a panicky Gunnar goes over his bills, they flutter from his desk (with the aid of sticks) like a flock of menacing birds, pecking at him and chirping, “Pay me!”
It’s easy to feel for the poor guy, given the universality of the financial crisis, and Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock’s moving script (the moments with his young look-alike son are especially tender) makes you root for him to find a happy way out. If there’s one gripe to make, it’s that the creators go for a dark, over-the-top finish when a subtler landing would have been more satisfying. But the work is so full of big laughs and offers so much to love—Waage’s wonderful puppet design, an appearance by the Northern Lights, and other delightful surprises (warning: you may get a little wet)—that all you’ll remember is how much fun you had.