The Telltale Heart
The Tiger’s Prime Minister
Sammy and Sofa
New York, NY
October 21, 1999
From Harry James to William Shatner, all in one night. It was quite a ride.
review by Donald Devet
The sultry sounding horn and come-hither looks of Harry James in the spirit of a marionette beckon us into a late night dreamy world. Welcome to The Puppet Parlor where puppeteers flex their creative muscles with their latest creations. Hosted by Karen Kandel, our MC, and a silent stagehand, Basil Twist, the October evening begins appropriately with Liz Joyce’s rendition of “The Telltale Heart.”
Joyce’s terse narration and minimal dialog strip away the meat of Poe’s story, exposing bare bones. A table top proscenium stage reveals the chief perpetrator, Joyce’s own bare hand. The victim with the offending eye is duly carved up, his heart stuffed under the floorboards., Joyce’s disembodied hand sweeping up the mess reminded me of a scene from The Addam’s Family. A visit from the police in the form of two rod puppets, Teeth and Nose, fails to shake the truth out of Hand. Finally it is guilt that does him in. His conscience in the form of that incessant beating heart forces Hand to rip up the floor and confess.
In “Now This” Paul McGinnis uses a shadow screen to represent a local television newscast. The news anchor tries to escape the bonds of commercialism by pleading with a bug eyed viewer to turn off the TV. But the power of the medium is overwhelming. News has been turned into slick entertainment. There is no escape.
McGinnis uses a lot of energy to convey the frivolity of infotainment. His constant patter and visual effects (strobe light, glitter confetti) keep our eyes riveted. Much like television, we can’t stop watching.
“The Tiger’s Prime Minister” by Chinese Theatre Workshop and Yuch Lung Shadow Theatre Company is told through a series of shadow puppets a la Indonesian way ang kulit. Live music by Karen Wong and Zhong Xi Wu along with Ron Sopyla’s clever dialog turn this fable into a political satire. A tiger auditions various animals for the dubious job of prime minister; their reaction to his bad breath is the litmus test. Only the twitchy nose rabbit has the diplomatic sense to decline giving her opinion. Which just goes to prove that “in politics a sense of smell is of no use at all.”
Next, Bernice Silver, the recently crowned Queen of Potpourri, appeared without her crown. In fact, she was without her head. In the guise of Anne Boleyn, Silver, in her inimitable style, recited and sang the wistful tale of King Henry’s ghost of an ex-wife, doomed to wander the Earth, head in hand. Then, quick as a wink, diminutive Silver popped up from behind a table to lead us in a “Cat Happening.” Unless you’ve seen one, Silver’s infamous “happenings”; are difficult to explain. She zeros in on a subject like a smart bomb, completely annihilating her target with surgical precision. Puppets, props and Silver’s husky throated delivery keep an audience in either slack jawed disbelief or side splitting laughter. Silver is a royal treasure.
Next up were four pieces from a newly formed group, The Puppet Lodge. Eric Englehard’s short piece, “Redstone,” gave him an opportunity to show off his Bunraku style puppets. “Sammy and Sofa” by Tim Lagasse and Jim Napolitano was truncated to fit into an already crowded bill. “Corpsey’s Carnival” by Matt Brooks is a quirky piece featuring a skeleton, a vulture, a maggot and a half eaten corpse. The black humor felt a bit strained or maybe it was the lateness of the evening.
An encore piece featured Captain Kirk crooning ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’; abetted by muppety back-up singers. From Harry James to William Shatner, all in one night. It was quite a ride.