Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Where the toys are

This is just a quick note about the charming evening of 'toy theatre' presented by Great Small Works at the Charlestown Working Theater last weekend. Led by local puppetmaster John Bell, the performance proved evocative and provocative by turns, even if it had little to do with the toy theatres of the nineteenth century, as Bell claimed in an opening song that was perhaps too academically-tongue-in-cheek for my taste. No, Great Small Works is hardly into the frissons of gaslit mellerdrammer - think of them instead as a version of the venerable Bread and Puppet Theater writ small, very small, sprinkled with the same gently crunchy politics, and delivered with a side of literary introspection.

Indeed, the evening's first offering, "Blue Skies" seemed to cram the vasty fields of Vermont onto a tabletop, with room to spare; the piece deftly illustrated floods and tornadoes - along with the social perfidy that has led to the repeated inundations of New Orleans. As usual with Bread and Puppet, social horrors were presented piercingly and yet at a certain sad distance, and natural phenomena were sketched ingeniously. What is the strange, sweetly acute pleasure we derive from the miniature? Is it an intensification of our usual response to mimesis (look it up), or something else entirely?

These and other questions floated pleasantly through my head during the more melancholic second half of the program, "A Walk in the City," which was inspired by the work of Italo Calvino, and did capture something of his sweetly rueful voice. Alas, the eponymous urban ramble perhaps rambled on too long, but as compensation included such small wonders as passing satellites (see above), and even a flickering movie - the production of which, like so much in this poetic program, struck me as no small feat.

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