Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bread and Puppet Theater’s “Storm Office”

Bread and Puppet Theater performed its new show “Storm Office” at Brown University’s Sayles Hall last night – and will perform it again in Providence tonight and tomorrow. (Also they perform the family-friendly “The Sourdough Philosophy Circus” on Saturday and Sunday.)

I’m still processing its flurry of images and words. They don’t quite gel. But it felt like a divorce drama – with the domestic turmoil reflecting and infected by turmoil out in America. Or perhaps symbolic of it. Or maybe vice-versa.

A repeated motif was an unseen arguing man and woman: “Honey, I need to go.” “I know.” “No, I mean, you need to care of this mess.” “So what?” “I mean, you need to take care of it.” “No way.” “Yes.” “I said: no way.” “See that’s what I mean.” “Maybe you should go.” “I guess I should.” “And then.” “I don’t know.”

In between, a fist smashes down upon a man; a giant cardboard person floats across the stage and out; a tiny airplane flutters in a man’s hands like a butterfly; a tiny woman paddles a boat atop silver seas and is overturned; a character with three sets of arms cradles three small people like babies, and these little people are seized and put in shopping bags and taken away.

Then turbulent red shadows, maybe of people in danger, and shouts over oppressive bass drum beats: “keep moving,” “what the hell,” “leave me alone,” “shut up or I’ll bust your head in,” “you are under arrest,” “get the hell out of here.” An announcer, speaking as if via some loud speaker, interrupts: “Ladies and Gentlemen, what we have here is a great opportunity.” And then: “Ladies and Gentlemen, We appeal to your conscience. We appeal to the best in you. We need your help. We must endorse our great plan to save you from yourselves. Your very future is at stake. Please understand, only you can curtail the disastrous effects of the current events.”

The stage is divided into two – white on the left and black, burlap and red on the right. The actions of white man on the left ripple across to the black people on the right, and become amplified as they do. At one point the white man opens a window and blows over a flowering tree. The momentum of this act carries across the stage, becoming a larger flowering tree that falls on a black person.

The show radiates anxiety and anger. I don’t believe it ever spells out what is causing all this upset. It’s just a “storm” or “disastrous” current events. But at this moment, what comes to mind is the shattering economy.

And could the man causing the trouble and who perhaps is the subject of all this talk of leaving somehow symbolize our departing President Bush? “You know very well that other infamous dance called: get the hell out of here,” a voice whispers late in the show. “How can you dance so peacefully to your coffee cup and yet get the hell out of here?” "Why do even the curtains of this stage yell: get the hell out of here.”

The conclusion features narration and banners about a monstrous storm that sweeps up the world in a madness. It finally exhausts itself, “leaving nothing but it’s fury behind. … This left behind fury invades the humans who themselves become storms and create institutions called storm offices. Ah-ha.”

Bread and Puppet Theater, “Storm Office: A Storm Poem with Implementation Machine,” Black Box Theater at The Met School, 325 Public St., Providence, $10, 8 p.m. Oct. 16 and 17, 2008; “The Sourdough Philosophy Circus,” main green at Brown University (rain site: Hope High School gymnasium, 324 Hope Street), free, 3 p.m., Oct. 18, 2008; “The Sourdough Philosophy Circus,” parking lot of Trinity United Methodist Church, corner of Broad and Bridgham streets (rain site: the original Trinity Rep Theater - inside the church!), free. 3 p.m. Oct. 19, 2008.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.


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