In the 1920s, sculptor Alexander Calder created performers for his miniature circus of found objects. Calder served as ringmaster and puppeteer.
The Fruit of Zaloom, recently on stage at the Contemporary Arts Center, is a descendant of Calder's approach. Paul Zaloom is the writer, director, performer and puppeteer of Fruit. He sets a charming, offbeat tone, and when something goes awry, Zaloom often comments on it with impromptu irony.
Fruit combines two radically different parts. The Adventures of White-Man is an ingeniously updated puppet show. Zaloom stands behind a small theater and manipulates a wide variety of toys and objects, and a video camera projects the action onto a large screen. He narrates the show, speaks as the puppets and adds simple, childish verbal sound effects.
White-Man first appears in a space suit walking around a moonlike celestial body. He's taking his "morning constitutional" on the curved surface. He thanks God for gravity. In response, God — a giant white beard — appears and commands him to go discover exotic people and places. After soaring through light-years of space, White-Man sees Earth (a small globe).
He likes the place at first sight. There's a line of cut-out trees and a blue sky, lit by a sunny-side-up egg. A pair of flying scissors cuts down the trees to reveal a row of little green aliens — the indigenous people. White-Man soon improves Earth with "civilization" — a line of skyscrapers (enlarged cell-phones), traffic, politicians, dentists, hairdressers and others.
Several more acts follow — maybe a few too many — but each contains choice moments. Zaloom also presents a "postmodern Punch and Judy show" called The Punch and Jimmy Show, a gender-bending take on the classic puppet duo. At the top of a miniature Victorian building, there is a black curtain through which the hand puppets enter and then wallop each other mercilessly with clubs and truncheons.
In addition to romantic discord, Punch tangles with a policeman, a hangman and Death. One of the funniest moments comes when Punch tosses a baby he's minding off the rooftop and it lands with a thud on the stage floor.
"Well, that certainly cast a pall," Punch says to the shocked audience. "Come on, folks, it's just a beanbag wrapped in swaddling!"
This outrageous puppet show was a delight. Zaloom works out of Los Angeles, but I hope he will return to New Orleans soon for more of this inspired work. — Dalt Wonk