Monday, March 27, 2006

Rainforest Adventures: a review

Wherein the museum has many examples of puppetry from around the world, including videotape of Madame (& Wayland Flowers)

Advertised as "In less than one hour, you'll experience a day in the life of more than 30 exotic plants and animals in this vital ecosystem" the Center for Puppetry Arts Rainforest Adventures is a triumph of setting and tone. Lacking a narrative, or too typical need to teach a heavy-handed lesson, we catch glimpses of the animals in their environments with the only dialog being the monotone intonation of the animal or plant name. Mostly played matter-of-factly with the occasional bit of humor provided by a howler monkey, the play does not forego drama. A tapir wanders to closely to the river and is devoured by the crocodile; and later, in an epic battle, an anaconda defeats the crocodile -- reminiscent of this story -- though it received many laughs from the preschool portion of the audience.

Rainforest Adventures is performed in the style of Czech-black theater with the puppeteers in black and the puppets placed in front of a wall of light. If there was any fault with this it is that at many times the puppets were held too far back are were hard to see. Otherwise, an excellent mix of puppet styles and the after performance examples of how the puppets were used is always entertaining. Also worth mentioning is the clever use of a "magnifying glass" to show us the smaller animals. When we see leaves mysteriously moving across the tree trunk, the magnifying glass descends to reveal a line of ants.

Julie Dansby, as head puppeteer, leads a talented troupe that seamlessly runs around a two-level stage and always keeps something moving. Ms Dansby is a wonderful performer that we've seen a number of times around town, but none more memorable than in Wrestling MacBeth. I find it odd that the Center for Puppetry Arts has no information on this show, nor for many of their past shows.

I do need to note that while mostly successful in pulling us into the world of the rainforest, the show continually hit a false note that threatened to destroy the intended realism. I would think that artistic integrity would have insisted they mimic an authentic howler monkey, instead of a generic monkey voice that was used. I do not think insulting the majestic howler monkey is what they intended and I hope an apology will be issued.

Aside from this small instance of tin ear bigotry, Rainforest Adventures is one of their finer shows of the current season.


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