nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
April 7, 2012
Lunatic Cunning is, we are told, based on real events from creator James Godwin’s life. In his dreams, hallucinations and work as a performance artist and puppeteer Godwin began to notice certain patterns that were re-occurring. He began to note the synchronicity in these patterns and created this show linking them, however loosely, together in a manner that is truly extraordinary.
Godwin starts by establishing his quest. He must go out and find inanimate objects around him and breathe life into them. The shaman sending him on this quest is a shadow on the wall created by his contorted hands. Godwin tells us he is a part time Occult Consultant, whatever that is, but it should give you an idea of the metaphysical nature of his thinking that is clearly reflected in his work. We quickly realize that he has spent a good deal of time ingesting hallucinogens such as magic mushrooms and not just for fun but for his work. His chatter on his esoteric voyages through consciousness is interesting and astute and it might even blow your mind but he doesn’t get too caught up in this talk. He spends an equal amount of time with hilarious character dialogue.
For example, he introduces us to Rooty, a potted plant trapped in his sad little world of bad jokes. Rooty is a rod puppet with a trigger mechanism for his mouth. He has beautiful, if not grotesque, details in his face (as do all his puppets) and he sports a pumpkin stem for hat. Using a simple puppet he calls Plankface, Godwin also takes the time to school us a little bit in the mechanisms, or “mechs” as they are called in the world of puppetry, that help him create some of the incredibly life-like effects on display in his show. I also really enjoyed the very funny and authentic character named Ray the superintendent who has a similar design to Rooty. At one point Godwin discusses transformation as a method of transcendence and to support this idea he performs an amazing piece with a puppet whose face is not what we think it is.
Lunatic Cunning is a transformative experience in its own way. I began to consider what it means to bring life to a lifeless object and I think that is what Godwin is going for here by sharing some of his secrets and dreams. His script tends to astral-plane at times but he always manages to ground out with some clever-witted and real characters. His animation of his puppets and transitions from character to character and bit to bit are nothing less than seamless. He has no one helping him set up the next bit and he doesn’t appear to need anyone. However he does have a director and co-writer, Tom Burnett, who does an excellent job helping to create this bizarre world. You don’t have to read Terence McKenna or eat mushrooms to grasp what’s going on here. Together Godwin and Burnett make this world very accessible. Hopefully you may begin to notice synchronicity in your own life. I know I did. Over a decade ago when I had just moved to NYC I went and saw a show called Uncle Jimmy’s Dirty Basement, Godwin’s old show at Bowery Poetry Club, and I was blown away. It’s what got me into puppetry. I had not realized that he was the same guy until half way through the show. Synchronicity indeed.
Godwin’s absolute mastery of puppetry is only one aspect of what makes this show so incredible. He pulls together story with philosophical musings on top of his talent for detailed design and life-giving animation to create an evening of puppetry that you will not soon forget.