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
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 28, 2016