Puppets and actors create
Three Legged Race's premiere production of Kira Obolenski's Quick Silver is the third show in two months in Minneapolis to look at the harsh underbelly of capitalism. Although its social message is direct, it does not feel heavy handed, because of the unexpected whimsy and charm of the interplay among puppets and actors.
We are talking, here, of a speech-making finger, a gluttonous factory owner with a refrigerator for a belly, puppet lovers, a tiger or two, and an aerial spirit. These unlikely parts make up a whole that is poignant and funny, and I was totally beguiled by the surreal world of the play.
The town, The Hat-making Capital of the World, has prospered during times of economic hardship, and a reporter arrives to write an article about it. On the surface all looks well. "A pleasing place to live in, in a pleasing time," says Zaworski, the self-satisfied factory owner. But at the Stark home, Gaga is half-mad and already in his coffin, dying of mercury poisoning. Hilda's husband is vomiting, and people cannot live in the "strange air" that the factory spews over the town. Hat-making might be deadly, but it "puts a jingle in the pockets" of workers, and Zaworski sees no advantage in improving conditions.
Three actors play roles, and manipulate and speak for the puppets. Dressed in plain gray, they are much in evidence as they work skillfully with the puppets, but their attitudes towards the puppets invest the figures with humanity and focus attention on the puppets.
Charles Schuminski, with his rich voice, acts as narrator and manages Gaga Stark and Zaworski, among others. Zaworski looms large in a chair on wheels. His chest is a box that resembles a refrigerator, complete with door, and his lugubrious head with its red-rimmed, popping eyes and sickly skin tells you right off that he's a baddie. He doesn't disappoint. Standing behind the figure, Schuminski appears to operate the puppet's mouth with air pressure as he speaks, so that he's free to manipulate Zaworski's hands. Zaworski constantly devours food and anything else that it seems propitious to eat - even a daughter in love! The Chagall-like wraith, Gaga, rouses from his coffin at intervals to interact with his wife Lily and to float over the town.
Lily is all humanity, and Katie Kaufmann manipulates the 18-inch figure with engaging tenderness. Since her husband is dying, Lily has no means by which to support herself and her aspiring poet son, but this simple woman divines the latent power of words and wills into being a word cake that empowers her to leave the poisoned town. The moment between Schwartz the reporter and Lily, when he proposes to her, is truly touching. Kaufmann also plays Zaworski's daughter Rose, a young woman who faces being married off to her father's middle-aged capitalist friend.
Brent Doyle has great facility with accents. He gives the puppet Hilda a Scottish accent and, in his hands, the gray reporter Schwartz is hilarious. Most of Schwartz's rapid spill of words are indecipherable, but those that you can hear are delightfully unexpected; it's a virtuoso performance. Doyle works the tape measure doctor, who measures pain, with consummate skill and plays Lily and Gaga's son, a sweetly romantic young man.
The puppets, designed and built by Irve Dell and Obolenski, are small masterpieces in their quirky design and fluid movement. Dell also designed the simple set of two large counters, and fabricated the many objects that make up the hat-making town, things like a sardine can train and a polluted red river. Anita Ruth plays Christopher Gable's original music for the production at a piano on stage
Quick Silver and Laurie Carlos' Marion's Terrible Time of Joy were developed in workshop under the auspices of Three-Legged Race and the Playwrights Center. Both are mixed media premieres, playing in repertory, and are Three Legged Race's swan song. It's sad to see a good company close, but what a way to bow out.
Quick Silver October 9 - November 2. Thursdays, through Saturdays 8:00p.m. Sundays, 2:00 p.m. $16 - 18. (Playing in repertory with Marion's Terrible Time of Joy - both shows $24.) Three-Legged Race at the Playwright's Center, 2301, East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis. Call 612-323-3200.