Review by Mari Lyn Henry From My Seat in the House
The amazing puppeteer, ventriloquist, voice artist, mime, clown, and creative genius Jeff Achtem gives us a world filled with a strange assembly of characters . The swamp contains bickering snails, neurotic snakes, operatic mice, a bird with a heart of gold, a crazy crocodile and a grinch-type geezer who tries to control or kill them . The stage is filled with props: a box filled with tinsel-decorated brushes, fringe balls, plant branches and assorted bits of rubbish. On the clothesline are pinned the hand puppets he will be using in his stories. The screen is a white sheet backed by a crazy quilt on which he moves his characters, speaks for them and manipulates their behaviors. Plenty of sound effects and an original score composed, by David Henry, Nick Carver and Tristan Kelley, enhance all of the characters and their actions.
There had to be a tremendous amount of work and collaboration to prepare this one-of-a-kind unique experience. Jeff Achtem has been a puppetry innovator in Montreal and is now based in Melbourne where he runs Bunk Puppets. He is a force of nature as he does at least four things at once, with differenct characters in dialogue, sound effects and controlling the lighting using simple light bulbs for illumination.
In the finale, the audience is given pairs of 3D retro glasses so that the creatures look like they are about to attack. The best part for me was hearing the reactions of the children expressing their fear and excitement.
An hour seems too short but he leaves us wanting more and ignites our imaginations. This performance is for all ages, for children and for our inner child. At one point he assures us that nightmares aren’t real; puppets are real.
As a result, during his holiday engagement, he will offer a number of hands-on workshops for parents and their children on how to turn the junk in your house into gorgeously filigreed shadow puppets. Workshops will take place on three Saturdays—December 6, 13, and 17 and one Sunday, December 21. Best ages are 7 to 16. To book a workshop space call 212-243-6262.
The Barrow Street theatre, 27 Barrow St.
Until January 4, 2015
Check www.barrowstreettheatre.com for performance schedule