Puppets: The Pigeoning and Nufonia Must Fall

I’ve seen a couple of puppet performances recently. I’d probably not write about either by themselves, but there were a couple of thoughts about them that I wanted to remember, so I’m putting them down in this post.

The first was last Friday’s performance of “The Pigeoning” by Robin Frohardt at the Center for Puppetry Arts. It is a silly and fun play about an OCD office worker who becomes convinced that pigeons are out to get him. With the help of his safety manual, he tries to catch them in the act. Instead, though, he finds that they’re trying to warn him about an impending great flood.

This was enjoyable but I’d not have been sad to have missed it. I think that it would have come out much better as a pantomime with puppet pigeons rather than being produced completely with puppets. There were large parts where an expressive face would have added quite a lot to the performance and I also think that it would have allowed them to make some of the clichés involved seem a little less hackneyed and maybe a little more human. I don’t regret going but I wouldn’t make a huge effort to see this company if another of their works were produced here.

Next up was Tuesday’s “Nufonia Must Fall” by electronic music artist Kid Koala at the Ferst. This was novel in that it was a puppet show presented live on a screen. This allowed the director to have more control over audience perspective than a normal live production but still had the constraints on timing that comes from live performance. There were a number of sets surrounding Kid Koala and a string quartet on which puppeteers played out the show on camera, the result of which was a live-produced movie. The story, based on Mr. Koala’s graphic novel of the same name, was a sweet and engrossing love story between an outdated and down-on-it’s-luck robot and an engineer.

Visually, it was stunning. The puppets and sets were mostly off-white which, with shadows, created a grayscale film. Mr. Koala’s music was very expressive and did a wonderful job of helping to establish the emotional tone of puppets who didn’t have facial expressions and who mostly didn’t speak. And the performances were all excellent. There were customized signs on one of the city-scape sets that featured Atlanta-area companies and venues, which was charming, and at one point the two romantic leads go on a date to see the locally filmed “Baby Driver.”

Beyond those customizations, though, there didn’t seem to be a benefit to having this show performed live. With so many moving parts involved, everything felt too tightly blocked for me to think that there would be much variation between performances. I didn’t feel like it was any more responsive to the audience than if it had been a recorded movie. I suspect that if I’d seen the Monday show as well then I’d have seen the exact same thing. Worse, the screen put the same kind of psychological distance between me and the performance that I normally get from a recorded movie. In essence, it was a good movie but I didn’t really experience it as a live performance at all. Although it was well done and I did enjoy the show, I’m hoping that this kind of live-produced movie doesn’t become a trend.

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