Like toy theater on steroids, The
Paper Hat Game projects hypnotic stop-motion-esque video on top of layers of cut-paper figures, cityscapes, and train cars to turn a flat terrain into a living, breathing metropolis. Add to the mix clever props and three-dimensional puppets, worked by hand on 3-Legged Dog’s small stage, and it becomes a truly mixed-media world: A rod puppet might walk through video images of brownstones or ride in a photographic image of a subway car.
The story itself isn’t much to speak of: A shape-shifting puppet (by turns paper, 3-D, or an animated human) roams the subway, performing a simple, three-rule game: 1) Without speaking, 2) he sees if people will take one of his handmade paper hats;
3) everybody wins. His unguarded gesture — a sweeter, sadder version of a hipster “free hugs” project — generates occasional flashes of human connection, though he eventually discovers the downside of an open heart in a big city.
Relying on a dense soundtrack of city noise with only sporadic dialogue, Paper Hat toys with a couple of narrative styles but never settles on one (a brief foray into documentary, for instance, jars). The visual artistry, however, delivers. Creator/director Torry Bend and video designer Raquel Salvatella de Prada play with scale, depth, and perspective to make colorful use of limited space. In one sequence, Bend adroitly sets up a cross-section of a cut-paper subway car jammed with bouncing commuters; those puppets then fall away to reveal another layer of riders in the next car, making us feel like we’re moving farther and farther into the rumbling train. It’s a riveting, kinesthetic experience that makes Paper Hat worth the ride.
The Paper Hat Game
Directed by Torry Bend
3LD Art and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street
Through July 17