Famous Puppet Death Scenes
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Nelson
January 18, 2007
The promotional materials for Famous Puppet Death Scenes promise that the show will "cure your fear of death." The show, created by Old Trout Puppet Workshop and directed by Tim Sutherland, may not quite achieve that remarkably lofty goal, but the balance it strikes between moments of profundity and hilarity is well worth experiencing.
The show begins simply, with one round-headed puppet alone. Above him appears a giant hand, poised to strike. After the deathblow has been swiftly and humorously administered, we meet our MC for the evening, Nathaniel Tweak, a wild-haired puppet who explains that he, an expert in the art of puppetry, has compiled an evening of the finest puppet death scenes that he has ever encountered. And this is what we see—a cavalcade of doomed puppets who meet their demise in an impressive variety of ways.
Many of the puppets are truly spectacular pieces of art, presented in fascinating and diverse environments. The eye of a whale, which is a huge blinking white mass in a knobby darkness, is an incredible achievement.
There are serious scenes, such as a moving portrait of an old man sitting silently as his clothes are gradually stripped away, and there are humorous scenes, like one featuring a pair of doomed characters on a German version of Sesame Street. Some of the most effective scenes swing from tragedy to humor in seconds; in one, a woman comes home to find her husband has hung himself. Overcome with grief, she flings herself towards the mantle and clutches a framed photo of him, weeping, unable to bear looking at his actual body. She then does herself in with a handgun, and the remaining members of the family arrive one by one to do the same thing. Finally, an old man appears, and dances with glee for a moment before one of the corpses sits up and shoots him.
These various scenes combine to create an experience that leaves us with the simple but powerful message that life (and death) is mysterious and terribly, terribly odd, so we should all calm down and simply appreciate it as much as possible.
Cimmeron Meyer's shadowy lights create a creepy, vaudeville atmosphere that serves the performance extremely well.
I'm not sure which member of the listed cast (Peter Balkwill, Mitch Craib, Pityu Kenderes, and Judd Palmer) does what, but their performances are all exceptional; whoever operates and voices Nathaniel Tweak creates a wonderful moment in the final scene. As Tweak prepares to face his own death, the performer gently removes his hand from the back of the puppet, and picks it up, gently cradling it. The simple gesture beautifully evokes the moment of death, where friends and family can support and comfort, but they can no longer journey with you.
The program, with a tongue-in-cheek manifesto from Nathaniel Tweak, instructs us to "please endeavor to care as much as possible." No audience member should find this a problem.