Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: puppetry

Review | The Woodsman by James Ortiz | Directed by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen | Music Composed by Edward W. Hardy | Strangeman and Co | In Association with Robb Nanus and Rachel Sussman | 59E59 Theaters

The Woodsman, using actors, puppets, mime and music, gives us back story, based on not well-known writings of Frank Baum, on how the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz came to be:  it’s a rich multi-media hour-long spectacle, but the story ends up pointless.

We’re in eastern Munchkinland where one tiny nuclear family finds a bit of freedom from the domination of the oppressive Witch by living self-sufficiently in a remote section of the woods, making a living by cutting trees.  As the Mother and Father mature and eventually die, young Nick is left on his own, following in his father’s footsteps as a woodsman.

Setting out to find a wife, Nick comes upon — and fast falls in love with -– Nimmee, who turns out to be the evil Witch’s slave. Nick and Nimmee defy the Witch in order to fulfill their love but the Witch retaliates by turning his woodsman’s ax into a magically malevolent weapon that destroys him piece by piece and with stylized but graphic vividness (that some, like me, may find hard to take).  Nick, you could say, gets lots more than a nick.

The talented actors shift roles and move in and out of working with the puppets in fluid fantasy.  Author/director/set and puppet designer James Ortiz as the woodsman Nick meets various challenges effectively and realistically — and he sure can convey physical agony!  In this play that is mostly wordless, Eliza Simpson expresses Nimmee’s range of emotions with exceptional subtlety.  Crow puppets, darkly rising abruptly and rustling with foreboding, a woodland monster, and the wicked old-lady Witch are vivid and wittily designed and worked.

Edward Hardy’s evocative violin music, which he plays throughout, is a real strength of this production.  Clicking fingers, grunts and clucks of the actors create a sometimes distracting (grunts) and often pleasing counterpoint to the violin.

There’s a lot here for puppet lovers, Oz lovers, and those interested in the narrative possibilities of live multi-media.

The Woodsman plays at 59E59 Street theaters in midtown Manhattan through February 22, 2015.

La MaMa E.T.C., in association with GOH Productions, presents Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in The Republic, or, My Dinner with Socrates written and directed by Vit Horejs. The philosophers discuss democracy. L-R: Christopher Broholm and Socrates puppet, Alan Barnes Netherton and Adeimatos puppet, Jonathan Mastrojohn and Glaucon puppet. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

Review | The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates | Adapted and Directed by Viot Hořejš | Czechoslovak – American Marionette Theatre | LaMaMa in Association with Goh Productions

Socrates actively engaged in his search for understanding — talking, talking and talking, and asking leading questions — serene as the time approaches for drinking the hemlock, the Athenian state’s means of executing the philosopher on grounds of believing in his own gods and corrupting the youth, is an iconic historical event.  Through the use of live actors speaking the words while manipulating small puppets, and with shadow puppetry on the background screen, The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates seeks to draw for its interest on the tension between philosophizing and imminent death but unfortunately the production fails its material.  

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