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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 7.30.2009

 

Puppetry of the Dark

Eugene/NY theater company returns with Das Kaspar Theatre

by Anna Grace

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UPDATE 8.4.09: The run of "Das Kaspar Theatre" has been cancelled.

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Trial by Fire Theatreworks is back in town with an edgy new production of puppets and perversion.

The plot: Marlena’s grandmother’s puppets were locked away in a chest for years, stewing in memories of abuse and denail. When Marlena unlocks them, she unleashes the fragmented combination of nightmares and fairy tales that made up her childhood. 

This play is uncomfortably real, laying open raw wounds and twisted family dynamics. Do not expect a tidy road to recovery with a nice, red ribbon signifying healing at the end.

In keeping with their mission to produce new and provocative works of art, Trial By Fire TheatreWorks (which produced last summer’s Beirut) takes on this dark, experimental project. The play, written by NYU professor Raïna von Waldenburg, is not a set work; it has evolved from poem to puppet show to short film to experimental theater. This production is only its second incarnation on stage. The rehearsal process has been organic, says producer/director Benjamin Newman, and each actor has informed character development and the overall shape of the production. 

This open collaboration is not always easy, but a powerful way to bring the story to life, the actrs say. Julie Fether says it is the most challenging play she’s done in 30 years on stage. To begin with, most of the actors are playing puppets. Those who aren’t puppets (and even some who are) are multidimensional characters, neither good nor bad but gritty and true. Cast members used the word “important” over and over. Difficult, at times horrifying, the work challenges the cast to bring all of their skills and passions to the table. 

Why is Newman devoted to such dark material? He says that taboo subject matter is not necessarily “sick.” This play, he believes, is not about abuse — it’s about hope. Newman suggests that while Das Kaspar is more brave than preachy, more heartfelt than heavy. And he says that although the material is difficult, its very chaotic nature makes it beautiful.

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Das Kaspar Theatre runs Aug 5-8 & 12-15 in the Blue Door Theatre at LCC. Info at 683-1429.