nytheatre.com review by Jeff Lewonczyk
August 15, 2004
Puppetry is one of the most precise of art forms, almost entirely dependent on technique, and so imprecision and technical snags nettle more in a puppet play than they do in other media. So it’s a compliment to Laurie O’Brien’s puppet triptych Three that, despite a welter of opening-night mishaps, the imagination and delicacy of her vision still shone through.
Pulling inspiration from sources such as Edward Gorey, Lewis Carroll, Jean Cocteau, Jan Svankmajer, and Joseph Cornell, the three short pieces that make up this half-hour show each inhabit a world unto themselves. The first, “A Horse Called Sadness,” uses candy colors and word balloons to conjure a world of dazzling pathos, in which a sadistic ringmaster shoots the forlorn title character for having broken a leg. As jaunty hand-drawn text trails across the back of the puppet stage’s miniature aperture (turning the narration into a kind of puppet itself), a high-strung dancer named Bird-Girl and the “Bunny Called Anger” respectively attempt to lament and avenge their poor friend’s death.
The second piece is a shadow-puppet interpretation of Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” mined for the eeriest possible resonance. As an acid voiceover declaims Carroll’s verse, the exquisitely sinister titular pair make you truly frightened for the welfare of those poor, naive oysters.
“Pest Control,” Three’s climactic presentation, is the longest, dreamiest and least narrative of the lot. Suffering a concussion after a blow from a child’s stray ball, a freakily serene Victorian doll finds herself in the living embodiment of a Joseph Cornell box. A succession of cabinet doors open and close, revealing a multitude of images both poetic and disturbing, as a cherubic demon flits in and out, bearing mysterious exhortations.
I won’t go into detail about the technical snafus, since I’m confident they’ll have been ironed out by the second performance. If the magic of the images came through well enough despite such obstacles, I can only imagine their beauty when presented with greater assurance.