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Close to Decline

nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
March 22, 2013

Close to Decline

A scene from Close to Decline

Close to Decline addresses the near-universal experience of how one is to deal with an aging parent's rapid decline.  Originally developed at the St. Ann's Puppetry Lab, this newly fleshed-out version is being premiered as part of The Tank's flagship curated theater series, Flint & Tinder.  Primarily performed by creator Marta Mozelle MacRostie (with a few able assistants), it combines object theater, various forms of puppetry, dance, and mask to relate her intimately personal tale.

Starting with a drive over to her father's nursing home, the piece covers her father's decline into senescence, interspersed with flashbacks to her youth and a recurring dream with a dancing chair.  Each segment utilizes different performative media: the flashbacks use paper cutout puppets within the box of a picture frame, the prologue and epilogue use everyday objects on a tabletop, the visits with her father use a mask, etc.  The segments alternate, spaced apart with blackout transitions and soothing guitar music that gives it a feeling of meditative pastiche.  There is a noticeable attention to repetition and ritual as well, for example in the way that every flashback scene starts with the same ritual preparation of removing nested lampshades from a standing lamp to wear on the puppeteers heads before rolling the picture frame center stage and removing its back.  This further enhances its very deliberate, rhythmic pace.

The puppets themselves are quite technically clever, particularly ways in which perspectival shifts are achieved with the paper cutouts.  The aforementioned dancing chair is also somewhat of a show-stealer.  It never feels too enamored with its own ingenuity, however, and the lo-fi, handmade aesthetic that pervades all of the puppetry design is charming and grounding.  In our over-saturated mediascape, Close to Decline was a refreshingly small, meditative, and intimate piece of catharsis.  Never didactic, it comes off as an honest artistic effort to process experience, done in a way that is both genuine and inviting.