Theatre Review: Puppets die, you love it

By Diane Klaver

The fear of mortality and speculation of immortality is a wonder mankind has always visited with some reservation. For the thought of living without purpose or not achieving our dreams drives the fear of death into most of us.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes brings brilliant puppetry and exceptional storytelling to a production both entertaining and thought provoking while questioning our beliefs on death. This stimulating production, performed by Old Trout Puppet Workshop, invites audiences to analyze how they’re living their lives in every passing moment and they realize without death there would be no desire to live.

Essentially, the play consists of 22 death scenes meant to be mere snippets from larger plays. The collection is compelled by the host Nathanial Tweak, a decrepit puppet himself, who attempts to mediate the deeper philosophical meanings to his audience.

Unlike usual hosts, Nathaniel doesn’t provide segues into upcoming scenes. Instead his narrations continually builds the audience’s knowledge of death bringing them together as a collective while time still permits.

His collection of scenes depicts everything from cannibalism, suicide and even a futuristic encounter with beings resembling Johnny Depp. The genres are just as varied, covering everything from sci-fi, romance, horror, adventure and comedy. Each beautifully crafted to draw emotion from audiences, satisfying their need for both simple entertainment and deeper metaphorical meaning while keeping them constantly wanting more.

However, what brings Famous Puppet Death Scenes to life is the true mastery of art apparent in the extensive detail of each puppet and scene. Each puppet has a personality through a quaky expression or weathered look, while the clothes, if any, suggest a status in society. These attributes are further enhanced with the puppeteers lending unique voices to the characters.

The cast of 53 puppets is vast and varied, ranging from indistinguishable brightly-colored triangles, to little old grandmothers and naked opera performers. Some puppets are too large to fit in the theatre and others so tiny only a magnifying glass can distinguish them.

What makes the play so unique is the involvement of the puppeteers beyond puppetry. The puppeteers wield life-sized puppets and props past the domains of the puppet theatre and become part of the performance themselves. Though this is unusual for a puppet play and certainly unexpected, it adds a realistic touch to the performance.

Conversely, working against the plays exquisite structure and performance is a critical look at the scenes suspected of being part of larger plays. While each scene carries its own weight and meets the caliber set, many of them could not be part of a larger work. Instead each scene is a one act show.

Furthermore, while the performance opens with a hysterical comedy involving the blunders of German childhood characters Bipsy and Mumu, the play focuses more on darker themes and dramas of death. Famous Puppet Death Scenes could benefit from adding a few more laughs to alleviate audiences from the more emotionally heavy scenes.

Nonetheless, while death is inevitable, the play brings about a key message often forgotten: Life is too short.

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