Chicago Shakespeare World Stage Presentation “The Table” Review- Feast for Bunraku Puppetry Fans

 

A UK award-winning puppetry troupe, Blind Summit, launches its first ever US tour with a presentation of “The Table”, a story told with a single puppet in Japanese Bunraku style performed on a table top, with occasional improvised runs around , under and in front of the table as well.

 

 

For those of us who saw the Metropolitan Opera’s incredibly life-like child puppet in Madam Butterfly a few years ago, this style of puppetry will be familiar.  There are no strings.  Rather, you see the three black-clad puppeteers from Blind Summit (Mark Down, Nick Barnes, Sean Garrett and Irena Stratieva) work the puppet’s every gesture.  What amazes about Bunraku puppetry in general and this show in particular is that the cardboard cut-out puppet totally transfixes your attention and you forget that the puppeteers are there, no matter how many times the patter makes self-referential reminders that all you are doing, after all, is watching a puppet.

 

 

That is in fact the theme of the show, deconstructing how the puppetry works. It is in large part improv, and during the performance that we saw the audience volunteer somehow managed to sever the puppet’s hand ,letting loose a wild storm of improvised fear of hand re-attachment.

 

 

The storyline doesn’t matter all that much.  Suffice it to say that at some point the puppet is Moses and at other times God.  You won’t really get a Bible story here. Rather, the absurdity that a puppet could really tell you anything about the Bible is more the commentary.  We are in an existential world bounded by a table, sort of, and the puppeteers ultimately make fun of your search for existential meaning asking, “What did you expect from a puppet?”

 

If you were a fan of the UK’s “Spitting Images” puppet show you should know that you won’t find searing political humor flaunting a puppet’s ability to bypass libel and defamation laws in ways that mere mortals can’t.  There is one joke, if you will.  That joke is that a cardboard puppet who “comes from a long line of boxes” can tell you a story.

 

This is a limited two-week engagement.  If you are a fan of puppetry and especially of Japanese Bunraku puppets do not miss this show.

 

Now through October 27, 2013

 

Chicago Shakespeare Upstairs Theater

Navy Pier

 

For info or tickets call 312 595 5600 or visit the Chicago Shakespeare Website.

 

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Photos 1 and 2 by Lorna Palmer; Photos 3 and 4 by Xue Quian.  All photos courtesy of Blind Summit.

 

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