By: Darryl Reilly
Resembling a deranged SpongeBob with vicious teeth, a giant plush foam puppet accosts a front row audience member, grabs his coat, eats it and defecates it out. An equally playfully menacing Mr. Potato Head-type is on the rampage. A creepy crying baby THING roams through the audience and is reunited with its giant grotesque mother onstage and is breastfed. These are among the highlights of the arresting puppet show, Deeper Closer Warmer.
It begins with a trio of eerie gauzily clad figures wearing mutant masks performing surgery with violin bows on various creatures, one is thrashing around on a gurney. The visual and emotional vibe is a jolting mashup of Francis Bacon, David Cronenberg and Hellraiser. For 50 minutes, the audience is beguiled by a compendium of chilling, comic and enigmatic vignettes, realized through superior puppetry and stagecraft. The finale is a wildly scatological surprise sight gag.
Deeper Closer Warmer is a collaboration between the Puerto Rico-based puppetry troupe Poncili Creación, led by Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro, and the New York-based The Daxophone Consort, comprised of musicians Daniel Fishkin, Cleek Schrey, and Ron Shalom.
The show is part of the three-week program, Puppetopia. This festival is the second such annual presentation by the HERE Arts Center’s Dream Music Puppetry program, which is curated by Barbara Busackino and Basil Twist.
On a separate double bill, there is the It Figures company’s Mother Mold. This 15-minute entrancing tabletop event follows a man in a sailboat, depicted by a stick puppet intensely manipulated by puppeteers, Ben and Rosa Elling. The boat crashes during a storm and the man swims his way to an island. There, he contends with the elements and there’s a metamorphosis. The man eventually climbs to the bold red sun which has been on view throughout.
Playing with it, is the Brooklyn-based Tristan Allen’s mesmerizing 50-minute shadow puppet symphony, Tin Iso and the Dawn. It opens and closes with Tristan at a piano playing a stirring classical-themed original score, composed by Tristan. Two shadow stick puppets who are perhaps a couple, journey through the world during its creation. A winged creature figures prominently, as do various forms of the moon during this mythological spectacle.
Puppetopia is a welcome opportunity to experience the artform through these diverse, intriguing and entertaining works.
Puppetopia (March 8-25, 2023)
Mother Mold and Tin Iso and the Dawn (March 8-11, 2023)
Deeper Closer Warmer (March 10-19, 2023)
Dream Music Puppetry
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets visit, www.here.org
Running times: Mother Mold: 15 minutes, Tin Iso and the Dawn: 50 minutes, Deeper Closer Warmer: 50 minutes