Erin Eager and Jessica Putnam, Eric Novack, Paul MacGinnis, Sam Hack and Andrew Perret, Brian Selznick- Puppet Parlor

Atlantis In My Eye
Hobo Variety Show (excerpt)
Sam’s Dog and Pony Show
Wild Queen

New York, NY
July 30, 1999

review by Donald Devet

The evening’s fare was light, amusing, good clean fun, a welcome relief from a sweltering summer night. Cool.

Puppets are an integral part of the American Living Room series, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, thanks to founders Kristin Marting and Tim Maner and to curators Barbara Busachino and Basil Twist. On a hot Friday night, there were few empty seats– testimony to their hard work.

First up was Erin Eager’s and Jessica Putnam’s vision of evolution- “Atlantis In My Eye.” Within an elaborate toy theater, fish swim, trees fall, skyscrapers rise and a conch shell rockets into space. Wearing pastel latex gloves, Erin and Jessica stick closely to a shimmery fish motif. Clouds are fish. Buildings are fish. Even fish are fish. Quick transformations swim by smoothly thanks to Hal Eager’s technical wizardry. Atlantis In My Eye is an amusing piece of eye candy. But without any central characters, the stage becomes the star.

Which is not the case with Eric Novack’s “E-volition,” another evolution theme piece that opens with dancing black light fabrics. Then Eric gets into serious heavy metal. Just as fish imagery dominates Atlantis In My Eye, metallic imagery is central to E-volition. A flexible metal conduit slithers and evolves into a dinosaur with metallic claws. A monkey in a business suit is stripped to reveal a metallic man. A metallic rocket boosts him into space.

Assisted by Liz Joyce, Eric courageously wrestled with his shiny creations who for a few moments seemed to escape his grasp. Luckily, Eric quickly regained control.. If you’re not careful that volition business can get out of hand.

A Scene from “Hobo Variety Show” focuses on an enterprising fellow and his home-on-wheels cart. He tries shining shoes, washing cars and peddling ancient Atari game hardware, all without financial success. Puppeteer Paul MacGinnis uses his own body and a rod controlled head to convey a frantic range of emotions. The frustrated hobo finally resorts to a mock suicide to elicit a response. Then James Vogel, manipulating another rod controlled head, pops out from the cart to join Paul for a lively singing, dancing duet.

A woman (Kelly Bush) enters pushing a baby carriage with a real live puppy inside. That was it for the puppetry. All eyes were on the dog. There’s a lesson to be learned here: puppets can’t compete with a cute puppy.

Animals again took center stage in “Sam’s Dog and Pony Show.” But this time they were “just” puppets. Using Sicilian rod control characters in a toy theater, Sam Hack and Andrew Perret serve up one vaudeville cliche after another with innocent abandon. There’s the beautiful but insipid mistress of ceremonies, a surly theater owner who threatens to close down the show, and a duck who fancies herself a comedian. And, yes, there’s even a flea bitten dog and a dimwitted pony. Sam’s Dog and Pony Show never takes itself too seriously. And neither does the audience who gladly condoned the corny schtick.

The evening’s final performance was Brian Selznick’s ‘The Wild Queen.” An aerial view of suburbia zeros on one house, one back yard. Here a troubled boy falls asleep and is comforted by a visit from a protective female spirit. Brian’s filigreed “Queen” is intricately designed and manipulated. But Brian dressed in street clothes detracted from the power of the tabletop piece. Maybe there’s a good reason why puppeteers wear black.

Though Puppetry Parlor ended on a pensive note, the evening’s fare was light, amusing, good clean fun, a welcome relief from a sweltering summer night. Cool.

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