Mere de la Mer

Years ago I was sitting in a cubicle, distracting myself with the internet when I came across an article about a puppet performance taking place in a basement theater on the outskirts of Soho. At the same moment a friend e-mailed me an article about the same thing so tickets were purchased and plans were made! There wasn't much information about the show out there...just that it was called The Fortuneteller, it was a tale of the seven deadly sins and the few pictures of the actual puppets were dark, folky, textural beauties whose craft was far beyond your normal image of a puppet. The production was put on by the company Phantom Limb, with the creative minds of Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko at the helm. The set design (a giant house that overtook the small stage with sections that would protrude forward with lowered creakily-hinged front facades revealing different scenes), the characters, the music were all so enchanting...a strange & beautiful world indeed!

So when I found out Phantom Limb had a new production, this one based upon an ill-fated yet triumphant Antarctic journey of the explorer Ernest Shackleton I was very, very excited. A story that lends itself to so much vivid imagery imagined in the spooky artistic style I had seen before seemed like a perfect match! Even more lucky is the fact that we happen to be at EMPAC during a series of final dress rehearsals for this new show, titled  69° South.

I don't want to give too much away and, since this isn't the official premier, things might change but....impeccably edited & projected grainy black & white film of the Antarctic collaged with other images on all surfaces of the stage in an overwhelming looming eerieness (made by a duo whose video performance/ installation work I now covet!), coupled with the rising and falling of delicately glowing gigantic cloth glaciers, mixed with perfectly made puppets all set to a partly recorded soundtrack composed by Khronos Quartet & the ambient, texture of the live musicians (of the band Skeleton Key ) came togther to form a truely interesting vision! The puppets really inhabit and feel like a tiny microcosm unto themselves, the felty, neutral warmth of their costumes, the heft in their step, their facial expressions make the stilted puppeteers recede into the background- a perfect metaphor for our own strange earthly scale of control. This is most definitely a work in progress though with some bizarre modern dance components (pic of such from the video documentation room above) and a vagueness in terms of story, meaning and form but the shear artfulness of the show was a ghostly marvel that I suspect (and hope) will only solidify with time...I just keep thinking if there were intertitles, which would fit in with the near German expressionist theater/early silent film aesthetic that was midly present, the story and meaning could be made a bit more bold and captivating against this gorgeous setting.

Out of all of the elements of this show the heart of this piece (that I think the production I saw was searching for a way to more strongly say) is the real wonder that stands out: we must accept and survive for the good of mankind and nature, a message I am constantly looking for in art and am so relieved to have found (however clouded it is in it's current incarnation). This piece is set to travel over to Dartmouth, BAM and other places around the globe bringing this message of hope and understanding (and the bones of a potentially epic show! ) along with it! Now, like after any puppet show, who wants to make some puppets? Brent? Eh? PUPPETS!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.