La MaMa, NY, NY- 2021 Puppet Festival Series
review by Ken Berman
“Body Concert” evoked Plato’s idea that our soul possesses all the knowledge of the world from before and after our human journey; but during it, we are bound, by our human limitations, to only remembering and never realizing this knowledge.
Originally published in The Puppetry Journal (Fall 2021 Vol. 72 No. 4)
Lone Wolf Tribe’s many productions, The God Project, Bride, Hobo Grunt Cycle, Big Top Machine, have expansive universal themes that cannot be summed up in a pithy sentence. After the performance, I overheard an audience member tell Kevin, “You’ll have to explain that part to me,” a comment that defeats the purpose of theater. Body Concert masterfully achieves the raison d’étre of performance, especially during a global existential crisis: a vehicle of self reflection that reveals a universal truth. Kevin’s art works best with an audience willing to invest the time to decode what can’t be said in words.
Lone Wolf Tribe’s Body Concert lives in the theater’s “uncanny valley,” between the familiar and esoteric…a destination worth the climb. La MaMa, New York City’s matriarch of experimental theater, realizes this—having presented Lone Wolf productions over the years, and most recently at their puppet festival, where I experienced the transcendent Body Concert. For decades, Lone Wolf (aka Kevin Augustine) has labored over big-scale original productions that never betray their shoestring budget. Kevin is a conscientious artist, crafting beautifully sculpted puppets that never become the main attraction or distraction. But performance requires more than artistic execution. Execution and meaningfulness are the performer’s obligation, and Body Concert fulfills. Kevin is a skilled manipulator in full awareness of his presence and use of the body, moving and puppeteering with purpose and style—even usinig his toes to manipulate, without being gimmicky. Execution and meaningfulness merge—captivating visually and contributing thematically.
For me, Body Concert evoked Plato’s idea that our soul possesses all the knowledge of the world from before and after our human journey; but during it, we are bound, by our human limitations, to only remembering and never realizing this knowledge. This sounds nihilistic, but Body Concert is an ironically optimistic, numinous ritual sustaining and celebrating the memory of what our soul knew and will know again: the truest understanding of everything, and the deepest connection to each other. Another audience member made the resonant comparison to vanitas, the genre of Renaissance still life paintings that juxtaposes skulls with musical instruments, peeled fruit and wilting flowers—a reminder of the symbiosis of life and death, memory and knowledge, corporeal and void.
And what an evocative world is created from the void! The performance opens on the birth from blackness of a naked man, a smartly Butoh-inspired Kevin Augustine: white makeup accentuating his physicality in an ethereal, boundless space.
An immersive soundscape adds to the sensory voyeurism of his intentionally graceful awkwardness exploring the abyss around him. He slowly steps over a threshold into…what? A yin-yang of dystopian and origin story, corporeal connection and spiritual longing, man and nature.
I was transported, and sporadically brought to reality by the palpable enrapture of fellow audience members literally leaning into the happenings onstage, visibly tensing and releasing empathetically as a sparse collection of Titanic limbs flexed and came to life, floating in black “chaos” awaiting to be created into something. That “something” is the subtle climax of a series of
reverent interactions between human and “puppet,” organically of the same world. The human seems to ironically enact the soul’s memory by infusing pathos into these dormant pieces of life lying around, and helping them literally connect. One climactic moment features two limbs whose joints come together after being partially flayed. This sounds grotesque in writing—and this makes for what Lone Wolf Tribe excels at: the use of puppetry as a transformative metaphor for what lies beyond literal expression. These flayed limbs are stunning, becoming a vernal apex, blossoming pistils thriving for cross-pollination, rapprochement between spirit and body. After a lower mandible is held up to the skies, evoking divine significance like the key to the arc, it joins its skull. We expect it will speak. The consequence of life is communication, trying to get at the connection and understanding we remember. Unexpectedly, its voice is the soft rush of ocean waves, and then the faraway flutter of birds—communication with nature, bigger than our human selves. Snow gently falls; a baby appears wailing for its mother—winter’s death yielding to spring’s blossom. She eventually comes, the omnipotent, with a sense of humor: a huge eyeball that morphs into a mother’s essence. The baby suckles. The connections are transient. The audience sighs. Don’t ask what it means; take time to remember.
Ken Berman is a puppet maker and artist living and working in New York City. Under the name Frankenstudio, Ken works with Frankie Cordero producing commercial puppetry ventures. The two also jointly create live original puppet theater under the name Dramaton Theater.
Follow Dramaton Theater on Instagram.
Visit www.lonewolftribe.org to learn more about Kevin Augustine’s work.