The Performant: Of eggs and robots

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Thomas John’s “The Lady on the Wall,” and the Slave Robots of Carl Pisaturo

A few years ago, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I saw Dov Weinstein’s imitable Tiny Ninja Theatre enact “Macbeth” on a dollhouse-sized stage, which one viewed through cheap plastic binoculars from a distance of about ten feet. It will always remain one of my favorite versions of that particular play. Weinstein’s ability to perform as a literal cast of hundreds and run his own tech without fumbling his lines nor cues put many much larger (and taller!) companies to shame, and though the intention was quite obviously to amuse, Weinstein and his tiny plastic ninja cast still managed to convey the nuances of a more  serious artistry. Thomas John’s puppet noir “The Lady on the Wall,” which played at the Garage last weekend, displayed the same perfect balance of dorky and deliberate, featuring an unlikely cast of, not ninjas, but eggs.

Dressed in a nice suit just a little too big (like an adolescent boy clad in his father’s clothes for the talent show), Thomas narrated the piece with the deadpan delivery of a professional street performer (which he is), making every bad egg-related pun in the book, as bacon, and eventually eggs, sizzled on a hotplate grill beside him. Maneuvering his fragile characters from the countryside to “Carton City” and back again, Thomas also incorporated small moments of juggling, shadow-puppetry, and DIY lighting effects into his 45-minute thriller. The somewhat scrambled plot (ha!) involved the mysterious death of a lovely lady egg named Maud, aka “Humpty Dumpty,” done wrong by a cad named Frank, and perhaps the victim of a mysterious marauder: “The Poacher”.

Other members of the cast spanned the gamut of noir archetypes, including a gruff, “hard-boiled” private eye (Bob), an ingénue (Molly Meringue), a suspect aristocrat (Sir Benedict), and a whole carton-full of doomed ovum -— the final body count of the show ultimately rivaling “Hamlet”. As for-adults puppetry in the Bay Area has been experiencing a bit of a slump of late, with the majority of produced shows coming in from out-of-town (here's looking' at you, Avenue Q), it was great to see such a unique spin on the medium by such a dexterous, likable, and local performer.

Speaking of unique spins, it would be hard to think of a more unique spin on classical dance than the Slave Robots of Carl Pisaturo, on display during MAPP in his studio workshop-cum-gallery, Area 2881. With a meticulously-arranged workspace in the back, and a front room full of spinning, whirling, brightly-lit, kinetic sculptures made of  mostly mechanical components, Area 2881 is a low-key, yet entirely reverent, church of geek. Pisaturo’s centerpiece creations, a pair of skeletal humanoid figures with an astounding degree of hand and arm motion, and nightmarish Frank Garvey-designed body “panels,” are known merely as “Slave Zero” and “Slave One”.

As stirring instrumental music and projections of building demolition looped behind the backlit slaves, they “danced” along, using an expressive range of gesture to surprisingly emotional effect. More proof, if proof were needed, that robots -- in addition to eggs and tiny plastic ninjas -- can be artists too.

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