nytheatre.com review by Jesica Avellone
August 16, 2006
Lost and Found Puppeteers' production of Dis/Appearing is inspired by a Billy Collins poem called "Walking Across the Atlantic":
I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.
Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.
But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.
One could almost say that Dis/Appearing is a direct adaptation of that poem, as the simple, beautiful play never embellishes on its story. A man sits on a beach, he takes a fantastical walking journey across the Atlantic, on which he meets a large fish and takes a nap, and then he returns to the beach. As such, perhaps Dis/Appearing is not quite ambitious enough.
Make no mistake, the company is employing hefty doses of inventive artistry here. All the characters are puppets (designed with no small amount of craft by director Betsy Rosen and puppeteer Eric Van Wyk), and the play is completely silent, so we must rely on the puppets to tell the wholly uncomplicated story. I perked up when the last line of Collins's poem was acted out by shifting the audience's point of view to that of the fish, as though inviting us to join them in their exploration of the ocean's murky depths.
For as much potential as this production shows, however, it is also deeply flawed. The puppet of the Pedestrian (the man who journeys across the ocean) is ornate and fascinating, but must be operated by three people, making for a crowded stage and a lack of precision in the puppeteering. There is a sense of moving from point A to point B and not allowing the magic of a puppet brought to life to exist in between. With so many actors onstage at one time, they do a good job of throwing their focus and energy to the puppets, but the people are impossible to ignore and their emotional detachment just serves to lull the audience.
The play also aches for a soundscape, as there is no spoken text. Bits of noncommittal sound blip in and out, noticeably abrupt and rarely illuminating the action at hand. The lack of sound throughout burdens the story, which is revealed to be rather flat and repetitive.
Still, I have great hopes for Dis/Appearing. It was created by several students from the University of Maryland, and is up there with some of the most promising collegiate work I've seen. For the sake of five years down the road, let's support them now.