nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
February 15, 2008
To this very day, when I visit my childhood home and I look into the little plastic eyes of one of my old stuffed animals, I see straight into his little cheaply sewn together soul. I know that my mind puts it there, but many times it feels just as real as looking into the watery windows of a pet or a loved one. Lake Simons and John Dyer's newest collaboration, White Elephant, follows the soul of a rejected toy in their sweet, always inventive, and certainly distinctive style.
The lights come up on a cute white elephant toy that's obviously seen better days. The puppeteers approach the toy and pull a white sheet from its ear. On the sheet, we are shown a short, fluttering Super 8 film of caring hands molding the toy elephant, giving me the sense that I was watching its benevolent creator install its eternal soul. When it is carelessly tossed into the fire by its owner, the elephant's soul is released and at liberty to strut to its groovy theme music. Elephants are known for their memory and it seemed to me our little white elephant and other characters were searching their memories, and sometimes their dreams, for something. There are a few sequences that I am not entirely sure about their meaning, but overall I think I got the gist of the show—everything has a soul, if you believe in it, and every soul deserves its peace.
Simons/Dyer collaborations are always so heartwarming and quite magical in their inventiveness. Simons's puppet construction in this production is very simple and yet evocative. Most of her puppets are made of paper painted gray or white and left faceless and naked, but the life of a puppet is not in its construction—it's in the animation of it in performance. Simons is an absolute master at breathing life into a puppet. Her movements are precise and yet she is often playful and even ethereal. Dyer plays his music live, right along with the action. For this production he creates a soft guitar sound accompanied by bells and other gentle percussion. The score has theme songs, such as the groovy ghost-walking jam, songs that bridge scenes and songs that float just under the action. Dyer also provides a few abstract sound effects.
Simons is accompanied by three other very talented puppeteers, Kate Brehm, Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, and Matthew Groff. Their movements and animations are dead-on and they have great chemistry together. The lighting (Casey McLain) creates a good amount of movement and sets the mood as well.
I was told that this production is still in workshop but I couldn't tell by watching it. It looks great and I had yet another rewarding experience. Simons and Dyer have a great thing going in their collaborations. I certainly hope they continue. You only have one more weekend to catch this show at the oh-so-cozy Dixon Place, so get to it. It will bring a little joy to your heart and revive the soul in your old Teddy bear.