The Digger: A Subterranean Allegory

The Digger: A Subterranean Allegory
by Inkfish
directed by Michael Kelly
puppetry and set design by Michael Kelly
written by Brian Snapp

The Digger: A Subterranean Allegory is puppet theater from Inkfish, presented by La MaMa. It uses a live actor, marionettes and shadow puppets to show us a hero who goes underground to search for crystals. The backdrop to its puppet set presents a cave, with successive layers behind cut-out centers, and the pre-show sound is the sound of dripping water.

This is an allegory as epic. Our hero meets demons in various forms. The lord of this particular underworld is a sort of ogre with horns. There’s a three-headed monster that our hero slays, a skeleton, a spidery (shadow) creature. There’s a brain, lit from inside, with spinal cord attached. There’s even a sea creature that saves our hero from drowning. What’s more, there are phrases projected on to the set from time to time. The spoken words – it can’t be called dialogue – are sparce, sometimes colloquial, sometimes poetic. The actor sings a couple of songs quietly, but the silence is lovely and there’s always something interesting to look at.

The lord-of-the-underworld puppet looks like a cartoon, while some of the other puppets suggest The Day of the Dead. The puppet brain is cool and spooky.

The puppet representing the digger is a yellow robot-like creature. The digger is represented as well by an actor who remains on the floor in front of the puppet stage nearly throughout. Thirdly, we meet the digger with his partner, like Adam and Eve, in the form of shadow puppets, and it’s this reality that gives the work its frame. We meet “Digger-man” (the head of the underworld calls him that at one point) as shadow puppet when he embarks on a search for crystals to perpetuate the race.

Inkfish has mounted an ambitious, elaborate production, and it’s great to see such intelligent puppetry for adults. But the company has pulled together too many disparate elements. The robotic puppet has nothing in common visually with the actor or with the shadow puppet representing the man. It’s the focus of The Digger, but whatever statement its robotness is making is lost among the ideas and techniques in this post-modernist pastiche. Inkfish would have done better to choose a couple of themes and explore them thoroughly, using a more limited range of techniques.

The piece is written by Brian Snapp and directed by Michael Kelly, who also designed the clever puppets.

Whatever The Digger’s weaknesses, we’ll be looking forward to the next show Inkfish offers. It’s an interesting company that would present such a daring production.

Steve Capra
March 2016

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