Talisman Theatre’s Aeneid (text Olivier Kemid, trans. Judith Miller, dir. Zach Fraser) is a modern adaptation of the Roman epic… with puppets. Because puppets just make everything that much more awesome. It tells the story of a man who has to flee his home and look for a new land for him and his son.
The difficulties immigrants face when fleeing their country is a major theme, but it never feels like the story is pushing for ‘awareness’ (whatever that means). Instead of trying to force the audience to empathize through excessive moralizing, the goal of the piece is to tell the simple story of a man looking for home. The good guys are good guys and the bad guys are bastards. I love it when a play really knows what it is and what it exists for.
Good actors know how to draw all eyes to them, but it takes a great actor to disappear. The actors (Marcelo Arroyo, Deena Aziz, Chimwemwe Miller) are completely visible as they manipulate their puppets, and yet, five minutes in, we forget they are there. Yes, the grey clothes help, but it is more than that. A skillful combination of avoiding all eye contact with the audience, standing as much as possible in pools of shadow, and moving nothing but the arms holding the puppets allow the actors to melt completely into the background. Each actor plays several different characters, and they master the different voice patterns and accents. And, I have to admit, I am a sucker for an over-the-top accent.
They say shadows are an essential part of a puppet show. I don’t know much about that, but I did notice that the lighting casts hypnotic shadows on the wall where puppet and puppeteer merge together.
The set is interesting, but far too finicky for my taste. It is an assortment of junk, like oil drums, scrap metal, and a rusty bedframe, laid out in different configurations. Its unsteadiness is very distracting – it looks like it might topple over at any minute – and the whole junkyard look has been done to death.
And, though it is a small thing, it is a thing that brings me much joy; this is the second play I’ve been to this week that didn’t have an intermission. I feel that the intermission is extremely overused, and almost always results in one half of the play being weirdly paced. I love being able to sit down and know I can forget the world completely for the next two hours without interruption.
So good job to the Aeneid. More puppets, less intermissions please!
The Aeneid plays at La Chapelle Theatre (3700 ST. Dominique) from March 6-15. $29/25