Thursday, June 30, 2016

33. Review: THE PAPER HAT GAME (seen June 29, 2016)

“It’s Only a Paper Hat, Way Up on a Cardboard Stage”
Stars range from 5-1.
With artists like Basil Twist leading the way in recent years, puppet theatre has moved rapidly into new and ever more complex technological avenues, combining video, music, scenography, and puppetry in innovative ways, often with an undercurrent of sociological significance. A good example is The Paper Hat Game, originally created and directed by Torry Bend in 2011 at Duke University, where she’s an assistant professor.
Photo: Craig Bares.
The Paper Game takes audiences on a surrealistic subway ride through a Chicago-like city, both inside and outside the cars, to tell—“express” might be a better word—the story of an actual person named Scotty Iseri. In the play, life seems a bore for Scotty until, one day, after donning a paper hat (the kind that look like a little sailboat) he makes from an abandoned newspaper on the train, he begins doing so for his fellow passengers, hoping to brighten their day. Some reject his hats, but others not only accept them but put them on, and soon he has a local reputation as the Paper Hat Guy. We even hear examples of their reactions, for and against. Eventually, the Paper Hat Guy’s altruism meets the harsh reality of distrust.
Photo: Craig Bares.
The narrative—which touches on themes of alienation, loneliness, and the difficulties of communication within the urban jungle—is a bit fuzzy and lacks fullness; even the visuals aren’t always immediately accessible. However, the overall combination of video, puppetry, and multiple scenic devices showing the urban landscape from both interior and exterior perspectives is exceptional.
Photo: Craig Bares.
The stage itself is no bigger than a decent-sized, flat-screen TV, so the further you are from it the more indistinct some elements may be, but there’s so much to look at and from so many angles that the visuals, whose viewpoints keep changing, never grow tedious. The images capture the essence of urban life, peering into the privacy of apartments, going into tunnels, traversing cables and pipes, climbing skyscrapers, soaring over the streets. At times, video and live images are so well integrated it’s hard to tell one from the other, or where one begins and the other leaves off.
Photo: Craig Bares.
The magic of Raquel Salvatella de Prada’s (also on the Duke faculty) unique video sequences, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s remarkable lighting, and the haunting sound design of Colbert Davis and Matt Hubbs, together with Aaron Haskell’s puppet designs and Kate Brehm’s movement direction, combine to create an inventive, if sometimes bumpy, 50-minute trip. A crew of five puppeteers (Steve Ackerman, Drina Dunlap. Yoko Myoi, Angela Olson, and Alex Young) keeps the show moving. You’d be wise to accept the invitation to go backstage afterward, where you can see up close the show’s raw materials. You’ll also see just how cramped are the quarters in which these dedicated artists work under conditions of controlled chaos to create such unity of expression.
Photo: Craig Bares.
As my Facebook friends know, I’ve been posting a series of photos of people doing what they do on New York’s subway trains and platforms, always with an alliterative “s” caption: subways are for sleeping (of course), subways are for saxophones, subways are for scriptures, subways are for singers, subways are for soldiers, subways are for smooching, etc. I myself might be the Subways are for Snapshots guy. What, I wonder, would be the caption for the subject of The Paper Game if I caught him doing his thing in New York? Subways are for . . .
Photo: Craig Bares.


3-Legged Dog Arts and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street, NYC
Through July 17

1 comment:

  1. I like how you ended this. Hmm... subways are for souvenirs? Subways are for sought-after creations? Subways are for skill? Fun!