In a crisp white gallery area on Nice Jones Road, in Manhattan’s East Village, a big picket field accommodates a meticulous mise-en-scène: a midcentury roadside motel room constructed at puppet scale, which implies it’s half of human scale. Standing on a step constructed into the skin of the field, spectators can gaze down into the set up, a time-capsule setting referred to as “Motel,” by the grasp puppet artist Dan Hurlin.
It has only one puppet inside — a immobile girl in an armchair within the nook, dressed with virtually ostentatious modesty, one darkish strand of hair hanging free from her ponytail, a crucifix dangling from the chain round her neck. On the tabletop beside her, the important thing to Room 15 lies subsequent to an envelope spilling $20 payments. On one of many double beds, the rust-orange unfold is rumpled; outdoors the door to the lavatory, there’s water within the sink. And on the desk, close to the room cellphone and a stamped envelope, a letter is balled up.
Ordinarily, nothing appears extra lifeless than a puppet and not using a puppeteer. However in freezing an nameless American second from a decade that may as simply be the Seventies because the 2020s, “Motel” completely crackles with an intriguing, unsettling vitality.
The set up, on view by means of Nov. 18 at La MaMa Galleria, is a standout at this 12 months’s La MaMa Puppet Festival — for the fastidious element of Hurlin’s motel-room re-creation (wall-mounted bottle opener; wood-grain-patterned paneling; lampshade gone cockeyed; Bible, in fact) but additionally as a result of it poses a problem past puppetry’s typical ask that we conspire within the phantasm. Hurlin and his sound designer, the very good Dan Moses Schreier, are inviting us to absorb their clues and envision a narrative as properly.
From the clock radio on the bedside stand, we hear intermittent voices giving and eliciting testimony, however they’re from completely different nation-rocking scandals: Watergate and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. What decade is the puppet girl caught in? Is she in peril or misery? Maybe on the run? And why does her prim, princess-sleeved costume appear from a distinct wardrobe than the garments hanging up?
Canine bark, crickets chirp, vehicles zoom previous — all in Schreier’s delicate soundscape — and we peer ever extra intently on the drab little room, imagining what hassle might need introduced her right here, and what all may be happening on the market.
Over at La MaMa correct, on close by East Fourth Road, my favourite pageant efficiency of final weekend was Tom Lee’s mesmerizing “Sounding the Resonant Path,” upstairs on the Ellen Stewart Theater. (Its transient run has ended, I remorse to say.)
The principal character is a puppet referred to as the Woodcutter. Coming into with an ax slung over one plaid-shirted shoulder, he walks slowly and intentionally alongside a curving picket observe, ostensibly alone. By no means thoughts the puppeteer (Lee) seated simply behind him, wearing black and scooting alongside on a small, wheeled field. That’s a part of the Japanese kuruma ningyo model, a relative of bunraku.
This charming, humorous Woodcutter fells bushes to carve and form; in his studio, we see him rework blocks of wooden into artwork. (Ultimately, we additionally see him carrying an precise flaming torch, which is a technique of getting us to fret a few puppet’s mortality, even when that isn’t the purpose.)
Solitary and self-sufficient, the Woodcutter is possessed of the ineffable high quality — a type of projectability — that may make puppets profound and delicate vessels for embodying human vulnerability. His is the microcosmic life on the middle of the present’s macrocosmic evocations.
As a result of what “Sounding the Resonant Path” units out to do is briefly, bountifully recap all of our planetary historical past. Its inspiration is the August 1977 launch of the Voyager 2 space probe, which carried the golden report of photos, speech and music meant to clarify Earth to any extraterrestrial life.
This present’s model contains minimal speech however many intricate projections (by Chris Carcione) and shadow puppets (by Linda Wingerter), in addition to dwell music (by Ralph Samuelson, Perry Yung, Julian Kytasty and Yukio Tsuji) whose bandura, drums and haunting shakuhachi flute attain in and seize you by the soul. To imitate exquisitely the deep, shivery sound of speeding water, the present makes use of the “Rain Making Machine,” a kinetic art work by La MaMa’s longtime resident set designer Jun Maeda, who died of Covid in April 2020 and to whom the manufacturing is devoted.
The cavernous Ellen Stewart Theater is a wonderful area for considering vastness — of area, of time — however Lee and his Woodcutter do it particularly affectingly, beneath an impossibly large, star-pricked sky. (Lighting is by Federico Restrepo.) There may be, at present’s finish, a transparent and lingering consciousness of being minuscule within the universe, and terribly, fantastically human.
Puppet-wise, New York is having a robust fall. Up at Metropolis Heart, in Manhattan Theater Membership’s manufacturing of Qui Nguyen’s “Poor Yella Rednecks,” winsome child-size puppets (by David Valentine) play a principal character named Little Man — a couple of being obligatory to tug off a comic book motion sequence specifically.
Later this month, at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, the venerable Handspring Puppet Firm — recognized for “Warfare Horse” and Little Amal — is slated to return with a puppet adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Life & Times of Michael K.”
And there’s the remainder of the La MaMa pageant, a part of the purpose of which is to nurture puppet artists at completely different levels of their careers.
Final weekend I noticed two different exhibits there whose runs have already ended. One was an bold puppet musical, Maria Camia’s “The Therapeutic Cargo,” whose puppet design was quite a lot of enjoyable: people with Smurf-blue pores and skin and stunning white hair; extraterrestrials whose vibrant yellow torsos framed the faces of the puppeteers inside. The plot, although — involving potato spaceships and intergenerational time journey — was overly sophisticated and insufficiently attention-grabbing. The opposite was Charlotte Lily Gaspard’s “Mia M.I.A.,” a work-in-progress shadow-puppet musical with some very intelligent 3-D puppets. Coincidentally, it additionally had a space-travel theme, making the exhibits three for 3 on that.
Of all the weather for puppet items to have in widespread — outer area, actually? Makes an individual need to hunker down in some retro motel room and hearken to the radio.
La MaMa Puppet Pageant
By Nov. 18 at La MaMa and La MaMa Galleria, Manhattan; lamama.org.