Program 2 of the 10th Annual International Toy Theater Festival
as Reported by Tess Elliott
Episode 13: Whistles and Leaks (NYC)
This was an interesting show about Bradley Manning, and the moral conflict he felt about blowing the whistle on all the illegal killings of civilians that was deliberately hidden by the government. For this, Bradley Manning and perhaps Julian Assange may both lose their liberty. But we do have to ask ourselves why we feel one way about corporate whistleblowers (many of whom paid dearly for having a conscience), and government whistleblowers who would be prosecuted for treason. It is not a black and white issue, as lawyers would have us see it, since our armed forces represent us overseas in ways we are not allowed to know or see until the damage is done. How can we question our government if just knowing about it, or telling about it is treason? Why did Scooter Libby out a covert agent and get a a much shorter sentence which also got canceled by Bush, and Bradley Manning might be looking at life in prison or even the death penalty? Both are treasonous actions under the law. It sometimes doesn't boil down to whose side you are on, when it's an issue about what kind of person you are. The character kept asking: “What would YOU do?” Most of us would do nothing, but lose some sleep over dead people in foreign countries. Some of us might cry for them. But I ask myself also: “How should we treat those who would try to make this right?” It is not collateral damage when we send drones into areas where civilians live. The film of the death of the camera crew shocked many who saw it. I was ready to bear witness to Bin Laden's death, but not a camera crew's. Somehow, we must demand our military stand for what we believe in as a country—that the death of innocents anywhere is wrong. How complicated is that?
"Suitcase Narrative: Three Small Things" / Open Eye Figure Theatre (Minneapolis, MN)
Mr. Sommers is a mad professor who can barely stand still. He has a manic way of showing a story with his art, as if his very life depended on it. His gallery is a suitcase theater fringed with puppets, and his art is their stage sets. He is an artist selling his story like a sidewalk shell game, and he makes a statement in his biography that he hopes his art is like a virus you catch, and stays in your brain. He has performed in this manner all over the world. He calls this “Three Small Things” though I wouldn't care to enumerate what they are. What I got from his pictures, (he narrates in sound effects) which look like R. Crumb trying to draw someone's head exploding, is that life is passionate and that curiosity is a great gift. Death is inevitable, and the Moment must not be lost while we have life. He is very funny, in a desperate sort of way, but I felt some empathy for the many many times I wanted to shake someone and yell: “WAKE UP!” Because he is so visually oriented, I was ready to love what he did seeing how so much of what the puppets do requires the pictures/paintings. Will have to read more about him now.
Pontine Theater (Portsmouth, NH)
M. Marguerite Mathews & Greg Gathers
The story takes place during March 5th and 6th of 1875, on the Isle of Shoals near Portsmouth, and is based on the first hand witness of Celia Thaxter published in the Atlantic. It is a striking series of pictures, again a homage to graphic novels and film, telling the story of a horrific murder during an unsuccessful robbery by a man who was considered like a brother to the extended family. He killed two women, and sent another out into the freezing cold in only her bedclothes, and by a miracle she managed to find help before she froze to death. The killer thought there was money hidden (there was but he couldn't find it), and he wanted to take it while the men were away fishing. The killer died trying to run away (the sea was his judge). It felt strange to hear a scary tale while watching beautiful pictures about the gruesome story, but that's toy theater all over. The partners worked so well together that every set change was smooth and flawless, and you don't have time to think—wait a minute—that was a severed head and arm! In black and white, it was almost more scary—like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Ms. Mathews and her partner both have very long and impressive resumes, belying the mindset that toy theaters are light-weight entertainment for children. This piece has a lovely elegant style, thanks to the design of Mr. Gathers.
"Baba Yaga VS Bat Man" / Goat on a Boat Theater (Sag Harbor NY)
Liz Joyce and Alex Khludov
This was a zany story written by Liz Joyce about two of Bat Man's enemies getting married, and who must be stopped before they can sire unspeakably horrible evil children. It is funny like the TV show was, and though kids are not a target audience for this more adult themed comic romp. She has very bright poster-like art and the entire show is fast paced. It looks like a kids show, but does not act like one. Baba Yaga is a gypsy-like bride to be, who comes onto Robin right away and sends him running. She is supposed to marry the Penguin. They do comic battle over the marriage, but oddly I forgot how it ended. Guess this means I could watch it again, and still enjoy the suspense (was tired and got happily lost among the bright colors). Please don't anyone tell me!
You can get a good idea of how this one-woman company does out there on Long Island, for kids especially. Liz Joyce is a direct and energetic person who helped serve punch with me at the opening. She has the pace down, and the brightness, with something still left for the parents. She is living the dream of a lot of puppeteers, being the community puppeteer among the beach lovers but we all know that also amounts to a lot of really hard work.
A Bavarian Folk Tale / The Dolly Wagglers (Glover VT)
Lindsay McCaw and Adam Cook, with Michelle Posadas
I was ready to love this show because both of the partners are funny, charming performers. This show required a third puppeteer, with all the characters and landscape changes...rather like an operatic version of toy theater, folk style. We see charming landscape with no fancy work, and cute characters who are miners about the business of digging holes to get STUFF. They are driven to do this until all the stuff is gone. Some of the local animals (and land spirits) become unhappy about all the holes, and some of the miners wonder when they can stop and have a little fun. Their leaders are against stopping while there is so much STUFF in the ground. Lindsay McCaw comes out front in a very funny costume, and deadpans the wise owl's remarks about this mania for stuff. She reminds me of Gilda Radner in her Roseann Rosanadana character, and is hilarious “reciting” her lines, while draped with her accordion. If toy theater people had their way, accordions would come back as a top instrument of accompaniment, and they make a good case for it. The collaboration between McCaw and Cook were one of my favorites at the last festival. Long may they ply their artful trade!