Saturday, November 23, 2013

Puppet Festival


La MaMa Puppet Series
produced by La MaMa (Off-off-Broadway)

An unusual kind of show is the puppet slam. The Center for Puppetry Arts defines it as “a curated collection of short-form pieces of adult puppet theater.”

Recently La MaMa (off-off-Broadway) had its first puppet slam as part of its Puppet Series.  14 puppet acts took the stage, each only about five minutes long. There were sock puppets, marionettes, tiny puppets…

Ever hear of humanettes? They’re actors with their faces in sort of habits, and beneath those faces are marionettes. They’re human from the neck up and puppets from the waist down, so that the faces are outsized.

Sometimes the puppeteers talked with the puppets, sometimes there was music… there was a puppet trapeze act… there was “object art”, featuring a tape measure… there was a green devil, a vaudeville act by Sacco and Vanzetti and other curiosities… and an act with video from Occupy Wall Street!

One act was a clever “Cannonball Love Story”. The puppeteer, Spencer Lott, addressed us with his head over a puppet-sized stage. He narrated the silly story while handling cut-outs and a pair of miniature cannon balls.

A piece with a singing puppet diva was engaging because of Randy Ginsburg’s strong, striking falsetto.

It was great to see the many forms that puppetry takes. Some pieces were fun but, as is to be expected in a slam, others were uninspired. But be on the look-out for other slams. Puppetry can be very intriguing, and this sort of sampler is a great presentation.
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Another evening of puppetry was Dorme, from a great Italian puppeteer, Laura Bartolomei. It was thoughtful and evocative. A girl falls asleep – inside a puppet house about four feet tall – and we watch her in her dreams. It’s totally non-linear as she moves through surreal sleep hallucinations.

There are lots of expressive images of her in the snow outside the house, and in the snow inside the house. We watch her try to climb over a mound of what might be corpses. She falls into a large aquarium placed below the house where she wrestles with a deathly figure in black.

Signa. Bartolomei told us after the show that the piece was derived from her own dreams from shildhood. This would explain why it’s so enigmatic.

Central to the performance is the wonderful, ghostly music by Stefano Zazzera, full of delicate mystery.

Signa. Bartolomei worked with an inventive, extraordinary device attached to one wrist comprised of wire. Wires on each finger manipulated the puppet, creating an intense relationship between her hand and the puppet.  The promotion for the show calls it a wrist puppet technique and it was developed by a robotic engineer, Vladimir Zakharov.

This is the way puppetry creates its own particular emotional response. We fell godlike – yet powerless – watching this little creature on stage. In this case, that makes the eerie scenes uniquely creepy. What’s more, we’re unusually focused because we have to look so carefully.

It’s good to see adult puppetry be so marvelous.