Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of THE MFA PUPPET ARTS FESTIVAL at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Through April 3rd
What do drug cartels, Shakespeare, white dresses, devastating fires, swimming pools, pants, and pin cushions all have in common? They are among the elements which make up a very unique evening of puppetry, shadow, and projection at University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre The MFA Puppet Arts Festival. Headlined by three Master of Fine Arts candidates of UCONN’s Puppet Arts Program, each triple-hyphenate actor-writer-director student created a vastly different approach to storytelling, whose monologues and puppetry helped to define what the program calls “the cutting edge of new theatre.”
UCONN is one of only a few schools to offer bachelor’s degree programs in puppetry and the only one to offer master’s degree programs. For me, puppetry harkens back to childhood – puppets, like those on Sesame Street were larger than life and came across as if they were my television friends. A stage play like Avenue Q, successfully and humorously bridges childhood and adulthood, utilizing similar charismatic, furry characters to engage its audience. But puppetry is so much more and often on a grander scale – Broadway’s The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors, The Lion King, War Horse, Hand to God, among countless others, also have used puppetry with exceptionally masterful approaches.
UCONN’s students, Kalob Martinez, Ana Crăciun-Lambru, and Gavin Cummins are well on their way to making their mark on the theatre world through thoughtful, intelligent acting and skilled, imaginative puppetry.
Leading the evening was Martinez, whose resume already is terrifically impressive. With his original El Beto, he combined the disturbingly homicidal elements of the Mexican drug cartel (replete with Spanish dialogue) with Shakespeare’s loquacious Macbeth – stories he found to be inextricably linked in many chilling ways. Using beautifully constructed puppets and other elements, he wove an intriguing and bloody tale with his impressive monologues, shifting seamlessly from character to character. Actor Natalia Cuevas was an added complement with a few moments of intense emotional fervor.
Romanian Crăciun-Lambru brought a beautifully impassioned story of love, family, and loss to the boards through her original Dust. Flawlessly staged with a perfectly dressed set (I want her antique sewing machine cart!), she wove the story of the famously tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 and the death of her own grandmother. Using no true “puppets” but instead a doll, a mannequin, a hat, scarves, and numerous other objects as well as shadow projections, she was engaging, expressive, heartfelt, and poetic.
Cummins’ Ok, Love You, Bye was a uniquely symbolic story about loss. With only glimpses of the actor himself, instead Cummins used object puppetry, shadows and other projections to tell his story through what may have seemed like random personal accounts and recollections, which together plumbed the depths of human grief. It highlighted the very individual, private nature of the grieving process and how dramatically it varies from person to person. Yet in his tale, as in life, even during times of despair, there is humor.
UCONN provided its audience with a peek into the Puppet Arts Program and to the accomplishments of its students as well as an enjoyable night of entertainment with a very inventive platform for storytelling. The very best of luck to Martinez, Crăciun-Lambru, and Cummins – we’ll be looking for you on Broadway!
The great thing about being a culture vulture is that you get exposed to new things – or sometimes, get exposed to old things that have been around for a long time, but are new to you. Such is the case with puppets and puppetry theatre. I was never into Sesame Street as a kid, but did enjoy the Muppet movies. When Avenue Q first premiered on Broadway, I resisted it, thinking I just wouldn’t be into puppets (no pun intended). Boy, was I wrong. When I finally did see Avenue Q (see our review), I enjoyed it immensely.
So when my wife/co-reviewer and I were invited to the Connecticut Repertory Theatre for the MFA Puppet Arts Festival, I gladly jumped on the bandwagon. I really didn’t know what to expect other than an eclectic evening of puppetry theatre. I am happy to say that I got that and more.
The night was broken down into three self-contained pieces each one created and developed by a different playwright. All three involved some type of puppetry. The first piece, titled El Beto, created by Kalob Martinez, consisted of key excerpts from Macbeth told via hand puppets. The story, however, was set in the context of the present-day Mexican drug cartels, with obvious parallels of drug kingpins to Macbeth. Mr. Martinez skillfully played all of the characters and vacillated back and forth between English and Spanish. It was probably the most creative take I’ve seen on Macbeth.
The second piece, titled Dust, was an homage to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The fire which occurred on March 25, 1911 is considered one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of New York City. One hundred and forty-six people died, mostly women and mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants. In a truly beautiful, one-woman show, the playwright, Ana Crăcium-Lambru. relives the fire through one of the victims known only as Maria. In a poignant mix of hand puppetry, shadow projection, dancing and above all fine acting, the audience is transported back in time to experience this terrible tragedy firsthand.
The third and last piece, Ok, Love You, Bye, created and acted by veteran puppeteer Gavin Cummins dealt with grief. Metaphors, symbolism and parables are told mostly via shadow projection using hand and rod puppets (forgive me if I miscategorize, but I am new to puppetry). Ok, Love You, Bye provides haunting dream fodder for late-night awakenings where one might sit up in bed and says, “Now, I get it!”
Who knew that one can obtain an MFA with a specialty in puppetry. Who knew that there are play festivals with a focus on theatre puppetry like The National Puppetry Festival which hosts the National Puppet slam. In our digital age, it is gratifying to know that theatre puppetry is not only alive, but thriving!