Devised and directed by Blind Summit Theatre
Great puppetry — no strings attached
What a shame that The Table, at Chicago Shakespeare’s Upstairs Theater, will only be here for a brief two weeks. This Blind Summit production from the United Kingdom, launched its first U.S. tour to kickoff this season’s World Stage Series. Now in port after smooth sailing, it would be most welcome to dock at Navy Pier for at least a few more weeks.
What a unique and charming expedience to enjoy this one-man — no really one-puppet — show, purportedly covering the last 12 hours in the life of Moses (in real time). The task is no more outrageous than the clever cavorting of the crotchety puppet narrator who — although he has been told he looks Jewish — assures us that he is not made of kosher cardboard. One puppet plus one bare table creates an entire dramatic world.
For first five minutes or so, our Moses examines, and comments on, his American table — measuring length and width in strides, and discussing his favorite corner with the long vista of table it provides. While it is never overtly stated, there is certainly the metaphor of the table as world with limited vistas, and perilous drops.
A talented team of three controls the amazing puppet, created in the Japanese Bunraku style. Artistic Director and company founder Mark Down handles the head and left hand, Sean Garratt takes care of the right hand and body, while Irena Stratieva has the hardest job, bent nearly double during most of the 70 minutes, skillfully controlling the puppet’s scampering feet. The team works in perfect unison, and enhances the performance by taking time to discuss and illustrate the nature of illusion, especially with puppetry, citing focus, breathing and a fixed point of view as the essentials — and displaying examples of each with delightful dramatizations as the puppeteers improvise with great verve and humor.
Down told the audience that the impetus for the story came from an assignment from the Jewish Community Center in London which wished a unique show to celebrate a Passover Seder. Moses is the challenge here because he is deliberately not central to the religious ceremony lest he outshine God’s role in the Exodus. For that reason, the Biblical Moses was buried in an unmarked grave.
The historic figure may be may be unmarked, but his puppet characterization — with its ability to mime human actions and emotions — will long be remembered.
Highly recommended — with no strings attached.
Beverly Friend, PHD
Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. 80 E. Grand Ave., (312) 595-600, www.chicagoshakes.com Tickets $35 ($20 for those under 35), 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Oct 27. Running time 70 minutes without intermission.