Bread and Puppet Theater
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
December 4, 2010
The famous Bread and Puppet Theater is currently performing a “respectfully truncated” version of Claudio Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses. Company founder Peter Schumann uses this vehicle as a means to protest war and inspire peace. This production is part dance, part opera, and all heart.
The show begins with a prologue, "Modern Sky," which for me was the most effective part of the evening. They use transcripts from a now infamous Wikilinks video from 2007 as black-and-white paper puppets move disturbingly around the stage, manipulated by figures shrouded in black. This short piece could definitely be presented on its own. It is truly chilling and made even more so by the fact that the text is from real events.
The rest of the evening is far more upbeat. The extremely large ensemble of musicians, singers, and movers tell pieces of the Ulysses tale—his return from the Trojan War only to have to fight 100 suitors for his wife Penelope. For a more in-depth discussion of the myth visit Wikipedia here. Using masks, a variety of colorful costumes, and what appear to be homemade set pieces and puppets, they take us through a handful of scenes to tell the story.
This very raw production is less a cohesive evening of storytelling and more a celebration of theatre in general. It seemed to me that this production would be more at home in an open grassy field than the large, black theatre at Theater for the New City where it is being performed. Although the show is a bit anticlimactic and might be confusing for some theatre-goers who aren’t familiar with the Ulysses tale, the pure joy that the entire ensemble exudes is nothing if not infectious. This is a throwback to the political theatre of the 1960s and 1970s and the fact that Theater for the New City hosts Bread and Puppet annually is a priceless gift to New York’s Lower East Side.
Anyone who is a lover of puppetry or appreciates a happy, unapologetic ensemble should see this production. They are also presenting a show directed at the younger members of our community titled The Decapitalization Circus in rep with Ulysses. And don’t leave too quickly when it ends! They serve the most wonderfully wholesome bread, spread with fresh olive oil, herbs and garlic that I can only assume the made themselves. It is simply fantastic and only further solidifies the feeling that we are all in this world together.