Puppetry From There to HERE (3rd Annual Showcase)

Created and performed by artists of The Eugene O’Neill National Puppetry Conference

HERE
New York, NY
January 20, 2001

reviewed by Donald Devet

The O’Neill summer conference began three years ago, and this year’s crop of skits represents the strongest yet.

Look directly into a bright light. Now close your eyes. The light is still there, burned into your retina– the famous latent image. If the image is strong and bright it will have made a lasting impression, like the impression made by these images from last year’s O’Neill summer conference:

  • An empty smoking jacket, literally smoking. This “invisible man” puppet given voice by Marty Robinson was our host du jour. The disembodied voice guided the audience via smoking jacket and agile follow-spot through a baker’s dozen of scenes and skits.
  • Jim Napolitano dressed up in a glorious monster costume designed by Heather Asch and reminiscent of a creature from “Where the Wild Things Are.” Jim cavorted around the stage as if he had springs on his feet.
  • Glass flower vases sucking air and deftly maneuvering above a mysterious illuminated landscape created by Scott Hitz.
  • Two dress manikins splattering black paint on each other in a choreographed battle of the sexes created by Richard Termine.
  • A small doll with its face partially crushed, representing Lewis Carroll’s Alice: a puzzling and bizarre image by Gretchen Van Lente.
  • Caleb Fullam, no longer hiding behind a puppet. Caleb is quite an actor. He does a deadpan reading of a long and sometimes meandering letter by Aubrey Beardsley.
  • Three wooden jointed figures precariously seeking balance on a seesaw as envisioned by Ariel Goldberger.
  • Deborah Hertzberg’s glowing duster mops and brooms in a blacklight homage to the 50’s when women took pride in keeping a clean house.
  • Cathy McCullough crawling into someone else’s skin- probably the most latent image of all.

These images still remain burned on my memory after almost two months. Why? Granted, the imagery was strong, but the themes behind the images were even stronger: finding true love, maintaining balance, facing one’s fears, and on and on. These are serious themes that were handled in a mature and intelligent manner by puppeteers who understand how to explore these themes using puppetry.

The O’Neill summer conference began three years ago, and this year’s crop of skits represents the strongest yet. The conference provides two things that puppeteers in this country have needed for a long time: a nurturing environment, free of commercialism, in which ideas can incubate, and time for these ideas to mature. If you’re looking to jump start your creative energies, consider spending part of your summer at the O’Neill and creating some latent images of your own.

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