Second Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival Review- A wealth of wonderful performances throughout Chicago

The 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival will close this weekend after an 11-day run from January 19-29. Festival Founder and Artistic Director Blair Thomas vowed to make this second biannual event a “diverse international pageant of top puppets and puppet artists…to celebrate the full array of contemporary puppetry and to help make Chicago…the puppetry capital of the world”. He proved as good as his word; 90 performances at 24 cultural venues throughout the city combined to present a series of thought-provoking and wonderful acts from around the world.

Blair Thomas; photo by Saverio Truglia

 This reviewer had the good fortune to see 2 splendid examples of modern puppetry art at the beginning of the festival. On January 19, at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Edlis Neeson Theater, 220 E.Chicago Avenue, I saw the dark and silently compelling drama “Chiflon El Silencio de Carbon, (“Silence of the Coal”) by Silencio Blanco of Santiago, Chile. This is a tale about the squalid work-life and shiningly lovely home-life of a mineworker.  On the following night, January 20, at the Victory Gardens Zacek McVey Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, I viewed the mesmerizing neo-fairytale Cendres  (“Ashes”) presented by Plexus Polaire of France. The dreamlike action here surrounds a true tale of an arsonist coupled with the psychological effects of a young firefighter’s son growing up hearing the story.

From Chiflón Silencio del Carbon: photo by Lorenzo Mella

  These are not your grandmother’s “Punch and Judy” shows- they are masterpieces of dramatic art, with appropriate music, storyboards in the case of Cendres, multiple puppeteers visible and participating in the performances, costumed and as agile as snakes. The plays are non-linear, combining imagery, smoke, music, fluid scenery, and monstrous events, creatures, and poetry. Sometimes it was hard to tell which were puppets and which puppeteers. The puppets themselves were ingenious, cunningly constructed, and moveable in subtle and iconic ways. Both of the performances were based on pieces of literature.

From Plexus Polaire; photo by Kristen AaflA y Opdan


Chilean Naturalist author Badomero Lillo wrote works of social protest. His father worked in the coal mines in Lota, Chile. Like Emile Zola, Lillo tried to change the terrible conditions of coal miners by writing stories that dramatized their fate. Not only are miners literally trapped in mines, they are forced by fate to be subjugated to the need of the industrial world for the raw material they destroy their lives excavating.

From Chiflón Silencio del Carbon (Silence of the Coal); photo by Lorenzo Mella


 Norwegian author Gaute Heivoll wrote “Before I Burn”, (Graywolf Press, 2013), ostensibly a story of arson fires in a remote district in Norway. The book is supposed to be about the events that transpired at the time of his birth, and thus is not derived from his memory, but from a series of photos and later-overheard whispered gossip. This is a perfect scenario for the art of puppets, beautifully recounted in mesmerizing images including a burning heart, a giant moose which splits open to reveal a smoking man, and much more.


From Plexus Polaire; photo by Fanchon BilBille

At approximately one hour in length, these wonderful presentations are easily manageable by children, although they are stories that transcend age, politics, and folklore.


For more iformation, go to the Chicago Puppet Fest website








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