The Night Market opens with an amusing pair of massive pig puppets. Ollie and Jewels squabble like a couple, and at times their dialogue seems philosophical, delivered all in brief lines, as if Samuel Beckett had sketched a fable about trust and alienation. Ollie is concerned that Jewels spends a lot of time writing in a journal. Jewels says it's not secretive, and everyone needs some privacy. Puppeteers Renee Anderson and Zibby Jahns' deft manipulation and the pigs' lighted eyes and well-articulated snouts bring the creatures to life, and the work gets off to a great start. But talk of secret journals suggests trouble looms, which it does for Ollie and Jewels, and unfortunately, for The Night Market as well.
Ollie and Jewels comprise half of writer/director Case Miller's show, which takes place in a dusty, raw, improvised space on the ground floor of a former firehouse on St. Roch Avenue. The rest of the piece concerns Lu-Lu (Anais Adair), who operates a grim butcher stall in a marketplace. The drama combines large-scale puppetry, live music by Ratty Scurvics and two onstage chorus members who sing some of the songs and sometimes talk to the characters and offer observations.
Lu-Lu's stall is strewn with debris and is suffering some sort of malaise. She has no idea why her butchered pigs are rotting so quickly (and there's only the slightest suggestion of a connection to Ollie and Jewels). As if in response to Lu-Lu's needs, The Speculative Designer (Alix Chapman) arrives. He's upbeat and speaks in a mix of technological and business jargon. He also sings the praises of his outlook in "I Am a Hub," one of the play's eight songs, many delivered in a quirky, rhyming poetry more than singing. Oddly, the Designer likes the taste of the rancid pork.
Lu-Lu's initial confusion and frustration are comic, as is the Designer's futuristic snake oil salesmanship. But both characters and performances seemed stuck on those notes on opening night. Adair had the same subdued response to the threat of losing her livelihood and to the absurdity of meeting the bizarre Scientist (M. Chandelier), who seemed to offer an otherworldly view of her predicament. A hilariously animated half-butchered pig puppet, lying on its back with its stomach opened, also offered a macabre deal to Lu-Lu, if the butcher could reassemble the pig.
It's not clear in the drama why the market has fallen into decline, or whether technology provides only the illusion of progress. The work follows a narrative, but there are many devised components by contributing artists, and Miller has created local art installations with performance. Opening night didn't get past that haze, but there were many impressive parts and effects, including the puppetry, the palpable existential dread of the market and much of the music.