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The Immortal Jellyfish Girl

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 18, 2023

"Bug" and "Aurelia" Puppets
Photo by Richard Termine
The visual theater company known as Wakka Wakka prides itself on "pushing the bounds of the imagination" through the creation of works that are "bold, unique, and unpredictable." The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters in a co-production with Nordland Visual Theatre, is all these and more, a thrilling and disturbing dystopian tale in which all hope of reclaiming life on a battle-and-radiation-scarred Earth rests entirely in the DNA of its title character, portrayed here in the form of a puppet known as Aurelia.

If the idea of theatrical puppetry brings to mind The Lion King, War Horse, or the forthcoming Life of Pi, you are in for a bit of a shock. And, really, do leave the little ones at home. Because, apart from a genial if somewhat befuddled narrator known as the Fox, masked and dressed in a red tuxedo-style jacket over a pair of shorts and sneakers, the play abounds with frightful, potentially nightmare-inducing characters, along with images of war and torture.

After some opening remarks to set the scene, the Fox introduces us to Aurelia, a masterpiece of bio-science concocted by her surrogate father, the Turtle. She is, we are told, "part jellyfish, part human, part tardigrade, part turtle, part frog, part axolotl, part naked mole rat, etc. She is also 100% puppet." The Fox makes frequent mention of the fact that the characters are puppets, though this effort at reassurance has zero impact on the play's chilling power.

Written and directed by Gwendolyn Warnock and the show's puppet designer Kirjan Waage, "with help from the ensemble," The Immortal Jellyfish Girl touches on some familiar science fiction themes. The year is 2555. Humans, as we know them, no longer exist. The great battle to rule over the Earth is between Homo Technalis, a technologically enhanced version of Homo Sapiens (think "The Borg" from the "Star Trek" universe), and what remains of biological life forms, whose DNA Turtle has used to create Aurelia. Will Aurelia, with the help of some friends, especially Bug (a flying insect and romantic interest), be able to maneuver her way through the radioactive war-torn fields to what remains of the life-giving ocean? Or will all life as we know it be consumed by the Technalis, ruled over by Doyenne, frightfully depicted in the form of a disembodied head and arm? The answer is never made entirely clear, as the play offers us alternative endings. Depending on your degree of cynicism or optimism, choose your own.

The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, running 80 minutes, is an exceptionally theatrical piece of puppetry, and everyone involved in the production should be credited for this grand collaborative effort. The performers behind the puppets are Lei-Lei Bavoil, Alexander Burnett, Fran├žois Couder, Dorothy James, Andy Manjuck, Peter Russo, Kirjan Waage, Gwendolyn Warnock, and Olivia Zerphy, with Jon Levin and Kyra Vandenenden identified as additional members of the ensemble.

The visual and auditory design elements are likewise essential to the production's success, with Thor Gunnar Thorvaldsson responsible for the original music and sound design, Jan Erik Skarby with Marianne Thallaug Wedset responsible for the lighting, and Erato Tzavara in charge of the projection design. And finally, the amazing flyaway set design and costumes are by the writing/directing pair, Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage. Bravo to all involved in the creation and performance of The Immortal Jellyfish Girl. It is a stunningly original theatrical work.

The Immortal Jellyfish Girl
Through February 12, 2023
Wakka Wakka / Nordland Visual Theatre
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: `