In the opening weekend of shows at the New Orleans Puppet Festival, Skookum Heehee Tumtum Productions makes the most of the cavernous space at the Marigny Opera House. The set features twin scaffoldings more than 20 feet tall, and at one point, a young woman in the story is carried away by an eagle-like suitor to his nest in a flight spanning nearly the full-length of the deconsecrated church.
The festival features different slates of shows both weekends at both venues. The opening trio of shows is a mixed bag. Skookum’s The Pearl Assembly, an adopted Inuit creation tale, is in many ways the most ambitious show in terms of scale. In the mythical tale, a man entertains suitors for his daughter, and she is taken away by the eagle. The man tries to retrieve her, but their escape across a body of water is doomed and the curtain between the towers opens to reveal a shimmering seascape and eventually a rising mermaid. The show features a very large cast, including a full chorus, and several different types of puppets including shadow puppets and giant rod puppets. Unfortunately, the scale of some of the props sometimes makes them unwieldy, and some technical aspects, like hooking puppets to the tether wire upon which the eagle flew, prove difficult to operate smoothly or quickly.
Puppetkabob opens the evening with Lady Arachne and Her Web of Marionettes. Puppeteer Sarah Frechette creates her own finely crafted marionettes and develops her own control systems, for example, some of the puppets have interior strings to control body movement. Frechette is extremely dexterous when articulating movement. Her show consists of a series of vignettes in which a marionette dances to music, and each has its own distinct look, gestures and dance style. Among the more whimsical is a gypsylike puppet and a bluish creature that seems like a hippie holdover from the cast of The Dark Crystal. Most clever however, is an old man with a walker who dances to an instrumental version of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” and at the point when “The colored girls go :/ doo doo doo doo doo …” his dance gets fast and playful. With both the craftsmanship and movement, Frechette’s talents are excellent. The show, however, might be best for fellow puppeteers and children, because there is little in terms of drama or narrative to the sequence of dancing puppets.
Complicated Horse Emergency Research presented Greech Fronge’s Chamber of Insipid Nightmares. A figure clad in the group’s style of grotesque costuming and cluttered design introduces the piece along with a hand puppet and much of the show is done as video with small puppets in a psychedelic mash of colors performing in the foreground amid backdrops they seem to explore. Unfortunately, I was unable to understand much of the high-pitched and strangely amplified (distorted?) dialogue of both the live characters and video. As promising as the visuals are, I was left in the dark for much of the story.
Those shows run through Sunday evening at Marigny Opera House. There’s a different set of more mature-themed shows at the Mudlark Public Theatre. And next week, there are different troupes and shows at both. Some of the highlights include Harry Mayronne’s New Orleans High-Strung Puppet Cabaret, the Mudlark Puppeteers’ The Monkey King and Toybox Theatre’ And Cripps Puppets’ Billy the Liar and the Werewolves on the Moon. There also are puppetry workshops at the festival.
New Orleans Puppet Festival
April 25-28, May 2-5
Tickets $20 general admission, $10 children