Review and photographs by Greg Haymes
It’s an election year…
And Glover, Vermont’s marvelous band of agit-propsters the Bread & Puppet Theater returned to Time + Space Limited in Hudson on Thursday night with their most politically potent evening of theater in recent memory. It was the rag-tag troupe’s 14th consecutive springtime tourstop at TSL, and this time around they left behind the cabaret/revue-style performance that they’ve presented in recent years – 2011’s “The Decapitalization Cabaret” and ’10’s “The Dirt Cheap Money Cabaret” – in favor of a more strident evening of theater.
“4 Plays From the Republic of Cardboard” is an evening of four short plays based on B&P’s recent involvement with the Occupy Movement, and all four pieces directly addressed the hot-button issues and sentiments of that ongoing experience. “Demand Rises as Unrest Continues,” with its title taken verbatim from a headline in The New York Times business section, opened the evening and set the tone.
There was less humor than the cabarets offered, and less visual poetry than much of the troupe’s early work from the ’60s and ’70s. But the message was clear, and the production offered an unflinching support for the 99 percenters, or as the troupe of five women described them, “the heretofore ignored and despised masses.”
Also performed in B&P’s presentational fashion were “Dire Circumstance Jubilation in Broad Daylight” and the cantastoria “Upriser Calisthenics.”
Most successful of the four pieces was “Naked Cop and Deer,” which was not only the most plain-spoken play to address injustice and the oppression of the Occupy Movement, but also the most poetic, concluding with a hauntingly lovely romp across the stage by a cardboard deer on a simple pulley. If you were looking for a symbol of hope after a long, arduous swim against the economic tide, this was it.
“Naked Cop and Deer” also featured some of the most impressive music of the evening, including the cacophonous “The Song of the Distressed Bedroom” (with harp, saxophone, ukulele, accordion and toy piano) and “The Cops and the Beaten-Up Masses” (for voices and police whistle).
One major disappointment was that – in keeping with the title of the production – nearly all of the puppets were two-dimensional cardboard. Only once throughout the 80-minute performance did a three-dimensional puppet make an appearance. Given the sheer beauty of the three-dimensional puppets that B&P has incorporated into previous plays, this was a bit of a let-down.
Fortunately, the cardboard figures and the stage-set backdrops were marvelously painted in director Peter Schumann’s instantly recognizable art-brut style. And throughout the evening, it was often entrancing to simply sit back and enjoy the play as a performance of moving paintings.
“4 Puppet Shows from the Republic of Cardboard” will be performed at Time + Space Limited in Hudson at 8pm tonight (Friday) and Saturday, as well as at 2pm on Sunday. Tix are $12.50; students $7.50. NOTE: Prior to the Sunday show there will also be a special lunch with B&P beginning at 12:30pm. Tix for the Sunday lunch (which includes tix to the performance) are $25; students $15.