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Review 1, 10-7: Happy Together
Neumann's not just Trompetter's Puppet for Wilde tale
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
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NEW YORK -- On a recent
weekend, "The Happy Prince," a collaboration between puppeteer Amy
Trompetter and choreographer David Neumann, premiered at The Kitchen.
The lure of fanciful and colorful puppets had the space bursting
with families for the Saturday matinee I attended. But though the
work involves a veritable army of papier-mache players in this telling
of the Oscar Wilde story this was no kiddie show. This was a moving,
achingly beautiful work of theater with a resounding moral of compassion
In "The Happy Prince"
a swallow falls in love with a statue of a city's late beloved ruler.
The happy prince who was blissfully ignorant in life can now see
the great suffering of the poor in his city in death. He entreats
the sparrow, who is on his way to Egypt, to remove his jeweled eyes
and gold gilding to aid the less fortunate and thus begins a process
of selfless destruction for them both.
Before the fantastic
parade of puppets, appearing in a great range of sizes, begins we
see the always exquisite Karen Kandel as she enters and crosses
diagonally. She recites text from Wilde's tombstone, speaking of
destructive love before she narrates the tragic fairy-tale, occasionally
rising from her seat to play a version of the statue. The work uses
both puppets and live performers to create a rich playground of
scale. The audience is often given differing views of the same scene,
as when Kandel, as the prince, stands above tiny homes and drops
a small silvery tear onto a tiny green sparrow while upstage the
same scene plays out in a kind of extreme close up, with Chinese
opera performer Guo Yi portraying the sparrow sitting at the base
of two enormous golden legs and getting pelted by an enormous tear-shaped
range from little stick characters such as the small sparrow used
in the previously mentioned scene to large three-foot tall heads.
She most often represents the downtrodden citizens with faceless
reliefs of bent bodies that appear to be in a state of constant
sorrow, while the callous rich are played by a small gown and suit.
The sparrow's tales of Egypt are set between bright and warm sheets
painted with hieroglyphs and populated by two-dimensional stick
puppets. Manuel Lutenghorst moves us from the shadows of misery
and despair into the fantastical daydreams of a far-away exotic
land with quick, easy lighting shifts.
All of the elements
mix to create a tightly-crafted work. There is no lost movement
in the show; everything is deftly shaped and timed. Neumann's hand
is very prevalent but highly subtle compared to the kind of light,
bantering feel of much of his other work. Aside from a few brief
bursts of Chinese opera movement from Yi the dance is not immediately
obvious. However, eventually one realizes that the entire work has
been highly choreographed, from the meditative reach of a hand to
the fluttering movement of a cloth to the barbaric pounces of a
mob of hand puppets.
Performers Trudi Cohen,
Christopher Green, Sophia Holman, Ricardo Muniz and Jessica Valadez
bring all manner of puppets to life through an extensive series
of movement tasks and puppeteering styles.
Daniel Barnidge's compositions
on piano create an air of odd otherworld-ness that perfectly suits
the taut, painful undercurrent of this profound tale.
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