Puppeteers of America National Festival
review by Andrew Periale
…something grand and beautiful using simple and theatrical means.
Originally published in The Puppetry Journal (Summer 2019 Vol. 70 No. 3)
The first thing I notice, as | sit in the theater waiting for the show to begin, is a large shadow screen, before which are two overhead projectors. The effects, I surmise, will be created right in front of me, which appeals to my Brechtian sensibilities. The piles of stuff beside each projector promises something “old school” (these projectors are now relatively easy to find as castoffs from schools and corporations that have “gone digital”) with technology not so different from that employed in 17th century Magic Lantern shows.
The show proper starts with a bang — or more of a whoosh — as one of the performers, dressed as a crow, swoops in, lands, and takes stock of the junk on stage. Soon, the thing with feathers is joined by another crow, perhaps a mate, who promptly lays an egg. The stage goes dark for quite some time before the crows (who are surprisingly adept at working on overhead projectors) begin creating a world from shadow and light, and telling the story of — what else? —a couple of crows.
Things start quietly enough, but we soon learn that these birds have no fear of goofy humor. “Was that you singing in the dead of night?” one asks. One of the crows goes off in search of food. He nearly eats a worm, but the worm produces what he calls a dream seed — a “magic bean,” in effect, that can help the bird’s dreams grow.
There is a lot of nature imagery, which is soon overwhelmed by man’s intrusion into the natural world — forests transected by power lines and so on. The worm’s lair is flooded, and it is forced to flee with the remaining dream seeds. But the crows, it seems, love the utility poles —“branchless trees!” “I dreamed this,” one says, as they laugh hysterically at an owl who flies into the wires and gets electrocuted.
While the crows are blithely unaware of the havoc these dreams have caused, we are reminded that it is not nice to fool Mother Nature, as the dream-crow is trash-choked. Still, there is a possible note of hope at the end as the final egg in their nest hatches and a new life is sent into the world.
Kudos to Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel, Vancouver collaborators since 2003, for giving us something grand and beautiful using simple and theatrical means.