by Lynn on October 9, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Extra Space

Created by the company (I guess)
Directed by Tijiki Morris
Set by Flavia Hevia
Lighting by Jennifer Lennon
Sound and composed by Michelle Bensimon
Foley Artist: Alexandra Barberena
Aisha Bentham
David Chinchilla
Talia Delcogliano
Michelle Urbano
Andrew Young

A very ambitious endeavour that could be helped with more clarity and simplicity.

The Story. An obsessed, perhaps mad, doctor experiments on live subjects to create a new life form. One of his patients seems to be a lifeless boy. In his experiments, the doctor transplants the wings of a creature onto the boy’s back. Held captive in a wooden enclosure is a vicious spider-like creature who attacks whatever comes near it. The doctor is helped by a chirpy, dim nurse who is easily offended and tends to be unhelpful. She seems to be the only other ‘human’ in the place. There is a curious pet dog who gets into some trouble but is saved by the doctor.

The Production. Flavia Hevia’s provocative, eerie set of a turret here, a dark table with a set of small compartments at the back, is reminiscent of those dark, desolate castles in which nothing good happens. The word that comes to mind with this set is “spooky.” That seems right for a story that wants to examine what makes a monster—as per the program note.

The creation and manipulation of the puppets is ambitious and initially impressive. The doctor is suggested with a narrow strip of green fluffy material with eyes and perhaps tufts of hair, manipulated by a puppeteers who moves the head by a handle at the back. He holds the bottom of the material and also manipulates that. Working in synchronized tandem with him is another puppeteer who wears large rubber gloves and places her globed hands beside the green strip of fluffy material, thereby creating a creature with arms and accentuated with rubber gloves. Each puppet is operated by two black-clad puppeteers (thus suggesting they are invisible) in a perfect dance of synchronized movement. The vicious spider-like creature has a clawed hand and shrieks or cries at all times.

The doctor sticks needles into squirming creatures; holds them down while sawing at their body parts; or staples their body parts. His major achievement seems to be his experiments on the ‘dead’ little boy, who is covered up on a high shelf, ready for the doctor when he needs to use him.

There is a lot of shrieking, crying, hissing, flailing around, screaming and all manner of non-language noise making from the various creatures, signifying a whole lot of confusion. Then a creature from outside finds its way into the castle and things begin to change.

The total commitment of the puppeteers is evident in their stoical faces, almost as if they are becoming the puppet themselves; their graceful ballet with their partner, and the cleverness of the moves of the puppets.

There is also a Foley Artist, Alexandra Barberena, to the right of the stage, adding further sound effects that do precious little to fill in missing details.

Comment. According to their press release, the mandate of Artichoke Heart is to produce accessible storytelling through theatre without words, and ‘favours the language of visuals, physicality and sound’ to achieve that mandate.

In the director’s program note Artichoke Heart wants to examine what makes a monster; the misuse of power; how we vilify others and are vilified ourselves; do monsters have humanity? Do we have the ability to be monsters ourselves? Bold questions to examine.

Something is missing though, in translation? communication? if I have to read the press release to find out that little boy is the doctor’s sick son and the doctor is trying to find a cure to revive him. That chirpy, dense nurse it seems is the doctor’s wife. The aim of the doctor, says the press release, is to save his son and reunite his family. News to me if the only thing I have to go by is this cacophony of sounds that tell me precious little. ‘Reunite his family’ from where? What? We aren’t told clearly or even hinted at in this production. Also, if the company collectively wrote or created the story, that should be clear too, in the program.

While the creation of the puppets is impressive, I must confess that it is distracting watching two puppeteers manipulate one puppet and certainly when there is more than one puppet on stage, plus listening to the Foley Artist, Alexandra Barberena, make added sound effects from the simplest of things. The group is very committed to doing its tasks. I just wish they were more successful in communicating what they actually wanted to say.

And I have to note that frustrating thing that happens to young companies regarding the nuts and bolts of information on their program. I would like it to be uniform information on the program that the production’s dates be there –they aren’t here; that the name of the actual theatre where the show is playing be listed on the program cover; and a clear phone number be listed as to where to buy tickets. All missing on the program for We Walk Among You. I do look forward to their next show, though.

Produced by Artichoke Heart

Opened: Oct. 2, 2014
Closes: Oct 12, 2014
Cast: 5 people working many puppets
Running Time: 1 hour

Tickets: Call the Tarragon Theatre Box Office: 416-531-1827.

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