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Review: New Orleans Puppet Festival 

Will Coviello says the puppet fest has grown impressively, but with mixed results

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Photo by Ross Peter Nelson

In the opening weekend of shows at the New Orleans Puppet Festival, Skookum Heehee Tumtum Productions made the most of the cavernous space at the Marigny Opera House. The set featured twin scaffolds more than 20 feet tall, and at one point, a character in the story was carried away by an eaglelike suitor to a nest in a flight spanning nearly the full length of the deconsecrated church.

  The festival featured different slates of shows over two weekends at the Opera House and Mudlark Public Theatre. Skookum's The Pearl Assembly, an adapted Inuit creation myth, was in many ways the most ambitious show in terms of scale. In the tale, a man entertains suitors for his daughter, and she is taken away by the eagle. The man tries to retrieve her, but their escape across a body of water is doomed and the curtain between the towers opens to reveal a shimmering seascape and eventually a rising mermaid. The production featured a very large cast, including a full chorus, and several different types of puppets including shadow puppets and giant rod puppets. Unfortunately, the scale of some of the props sometimes made them unwieldy, and some technical aspects, such as hooking puppets to the tether wire upon which the eagle flew, proved difficult for the crew to operate smoothly or quickly.

  Puppetkabob presented Lady Arachne and Her Web of Marionettes (pictured). Puppeteer Sarah Frechette creates her own finely crafted marionettes and develops her own control systems — for example, some of the puppets have interior strings to control body movements. Her show was a series of vignettes in which a marionette danced to music, and each puppet had its own distinct look, gestures and dance style. Among the more whimsical was a gypsylike female and a bluish creature that seemed like a hippie holdover from the cast of The Dark Crystal. Most clever however, was an old man with a walker who danced to an instrumental version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," and at the point when "The colored girls go: doo doo doo doo doo ..." his dance got fast and playful. With both the craftsmanship and movement, Frechette's talents are excellent. The show, however, is probably best for fellow puppeteers and children, because there is nothing in terms of drama or narrative in watching the sequence of dancing puppets.

  Complicated Horse Emergency Research presented the wonderfully titled Greech Fronge's Chamber of Insipid Nightmares. A figure clad in the group's style of grotesque, junk-pile costuming and design introduced the piece along with a hand puppet and much of the show was presented as video with small puppets in a psychedelic mash of colors performing in the foreground amid backdrops they seemed to explore. The sound was poor on the night I attended and I was unable to follow the story, though the visual presentation was intriguing. — WILL COVIELLO

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