A Quarreling Pair
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 5, 2009
The ties that bind us can be unbreakable and that can be a blessing and a curse. We long for companionship while simultaneously craving independence, and that ambivalence can drive us to petty squabbling over the most mundane daily routines. Aphids' A Quarreling Pair explores these bonds with extraordinary imagination in a truly unforgettable performance.
The show is three short puppet plays, two of which riff on the original puppet play written by Jane Bowles in 1945. The first is the original, from which the play takes its title, and it is followed by Mr Peterson's Milk by Lally Katz and finally And When They Were Good by Cynthia Troup. Altogether the show is only about 45 minutes but it does not seem that short. The first piece finds two aging sisters who live together in a claustrophobic yet mutually supportive relationship. One sister badly wants to re-enter society but the other manipulates her in such a way that highlights how much she really does love her sibling. The next piece finds the sisters on an adventure. They have just quit smoking and they feel the need to get back out in the world. The world they occupy is one of endless possibilities and they make the most of each one. This serves to strengthen their bond. The final piece finds the sisters in a bizarre fairy tale. This piece is very dreamlike. One of the sisters seems to have escaped the entrapment of their relationship but they still cannot break the bond between them.
I really enjoyed all of the writing. The plays are rather surreal so you may interpret the stories a bit differently than I did, but the essence of the sisters' relationship is very clear. The production elements of this show are what really shine. It combines puppets with live actors, object theater, songs and music in a manner that lights up your imagination and fills you with childlike joy. Every little detail is filled with animation and fantasy, from the book that flies onto the set like a bird to the conversion of an old vanity table into a versatile set piece from which the performers can operate puppets through little doors and traps.
The performers, Caroline Lee and Sarah Kriegler, are amazing. They can switch gears from story to story and never lose sight of the overreaching relationship of the sisters. Their chemistry on stage is palpable and that worked to draw me in closer to the sisters. Director Margaret Cameron does an outstanding job at highlighting the essence of the sisters' bond amid such an abstract and fantastical world. Cameron's vision for a production that is both light and funny while remaining somewhat dark and mysterious comes across vividly. The show is seamlessly executed. All the elements come together in an even flow of music, movement, and dialogue. The sound design, created by Jethro Woodward, is fantastic. It slips in under the dialogue and swirls around the action and fills the journey with tenderness and mystery.
A Quarreling Pair reminds me of something I may have seen as a child because it's so filled with imagination and play, but the themes are a bit darker. One thing I love to see at the end of a play is a messy stage. This show not only ends with a messy stage but it left me feeling like I'd peered into a strange world where anything can happen so long as you believe in love. And I like that feeling.