Not Just Another End of Days Tale!
by: Alix Cohen
As we wait to enter the theater, a diminutive (3 ½’?, remote-controlled Stephen Hawking circles the lobby in his wheelchair. Eyes shift, the mouth moves, cheeks suck in. His hair is boyish, his clothes rumpled-academic; he slumps. “I am excited for the show,” Hawking intones in the physicist’s electronic voice. A mini HP computer screen with changing images rests on one arm of the apparatus beside a microphone.
The beautifully crafted puppet appears again on the dimly lit stage, now and then looking around or addressing us as we settle. Earth will die within 200 years, he tells us. If man is going elsewhere, he’d better hurry up. Hawking is a prologue.
A fantastically original take on the popular dystopian theme we idiots killing our own planet, BABY UNIVERSE posits scientists trying to “grow” a BABY UNIVERSE which might carry in its “system” a new, habitable home for mankind. The piece chooses not to point a finger. An unnamed planet is dying of natural causes. Its remaining population lives underground. A-A-A-Apocalypse Radio broadcasts over enthusiastic interviews with the last choking man, woman and child. We see only their lit-up masks.
Elsewhere, mothers (elongated, white faced women in hospital-like gowns) watch over BABY UNIVERSES to which they didn’t give birth. Getting us to wrap our minds around this is a neat trick. The infants hatch from inky eggs looking like insects and evolve to doughy, black bodied “children” with white rings around their eyes and white mouths. Except that their bodies are covered with (in fact, made up of) stars and planets, they look like players from old minstrel shows. Baby sounds and later, voices are tremendously evocative helping us make the leap. There’s even a lovely lullaby.
We watch BABY’S birth and empathize with the doting mother as he grows, rebels, coos and asks questions. Mother and son, in turn, are observed by the benevolent “Monitor”- a government face on a screen and the malevolent Moon, a green, beaked puppet with orange eyes and two, long spider legs that double as wings This BABY, #7001, is different. He knows he has a purpose in life, expands quickly and appears stable. Countless others have died or run away. A coterie of researchers (taller than the puppeteers, white faced and floating) examine him. Yes! There’s a planet that looks possible…in BABY’S heart. (Whether he’ll survive colonization is a rhetorical question.)
Unfortunately, BABY gets kidnapped. The dying Sun (a 12’? tall, broad shouldered puppet/person with overlarge hands and feet, a tiny top-hatted head, and electric eyes) wants him dead. (Imagine the sounds of volcano eruption when the Sun is present.) Why should people get to live when he won’t! The planets, every one manifest with off-kilter physiognomy, are assumedly in the Sun’s thrall and also want BABY snuffed. When the child is captured, a charred-to-a-crisp Earth sees a copy of himself inside the prisoner. What’s left of civilization must get BABY back. He’s their only hope for a future! But how?!
BABY UNIVERSE is a captivating, thought provoking piece. Conceptually ingenious, it’s scripted with fatalism, humor, and poetry. Masks have Noh influence, but are more expressive. Puppets are wildly unique. Symbiotic sound effects are spacey and futuristic with a touch of ragtime. Characters are well acted; credible in context. Puppeteers in gas masks and modified hazmat suits actually grow all but invisible. Intermittent, screened graphic video sets scenes we envisage as encompassing. Brian Patton’s Robot Stephen Hawking, barely used, is inspired. My single reservation is an ending so ambiguous it seems a cop-out. Wakka Wakka is a company to watch for.
Photos by Bill Coyle
Wakka Wakka presents BABY UNIVERSE (A Puppet Odyssey)
Written and Directed by Wakka Wakka members Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock
Featuring over 30 expressive hand-and-rod puppets created by Mr. Waage.
Costume Design and Masks by Gwendolyn Warnock
Composer-Lars Petter Hagen; Video Artist-Naho Taruishi; Sound Design-Brett Jarvis
The Beckett Theater 410 West 42nd St.
January 10, 2015
The Company: http://wakkawakka.org/site/