by Collin McConnell · November 13, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #22 Collin McConnell looks at The Shatterer of Worlds a production of Bread & Puppet Theater
Below omnipotent and oppressive hands, all toil away, all die, and this creaky, crude mechanical world spins mercilessly ever onward. It is all we can do to hang on, and hope. Hope.
...and a story began to pull at me.
While watching Bread & Puppet Theater's Shatterer of Worlds Chapel with Naturalization Services for Applicants Requesting Citizenship in the Shattered World, a story was running through my mind. Not the story of the play, but one close to me personally, involving those I love dearly. Because Shatterer is not a 'play' to go see and understand in any logical or linear manner (though there certainly is a story and an order) - it is a piece of theater to be experienced, to be allowed to wash over you while feelings flow and ebb within you.
...and the story kept pulling...
It is an experience of what it means to be an outsider, to be beneath, of what it means for there to be ever-higher powers, all among ever-different powers. It is an experience of oppression, of repetition, of alienation through subjectification. It is an experience of awe, blinded by terror, blinded by... something. Call it 'necessity', call it 'need'. Call it what you will.
And my own story kept pulling at my consciousness, needing me to be aware of it, while at the same time experiencing the play.
So, a story.
I know a boy who loved a girl. Their love knew no bounds, for they were very different. Their love flourished, and soon they were married. Their marriage knew no bounds, for they were from different worlds - his skin was pink, flushed, and dusted with freckles, while hers was rich and brown, and lightly dusted. He was from the North, and she was from the South.
The boy's world did not like the girl's, and their love was tested. One year, they were told, one year with her back in the South and him up in the North and all should be well, they were told, they could be back together in the North then, they were told.
But it was not so. Not one, not two, but many years. They did not like being away from each other, and so, since the girl could not come to the boy, the boy came to the girl. Leaving his job, and what he had known as his home, he joined her in the South. The pain of being told they could not be together in his home world was great, and yet their time together in the South was beautiful. He came to know, and love deeply, the family he had gained in joining together with her, and the bond between the boy and the girl grew ever stronger. Among the larger struggle and pain, there was love and joy and happiness.
And then they had to leave, and go further south. Deeper. To the most dangerous place in the world. Many people lay dead in the streets, many dangerous people lurked everywhere waiting to do harm, and many days the boy and the girl spent in rooms arguing for why their love should be allowed up in the North, and every night was spent coming back to a shamble of a hotel, hoping they would make it there alive, and that they would awake the next day not dead in their room.
They waited, and they clung to one another, and they survived. And finally, the gates were open, and they were allowed up North once again. This is, of course, not the end of their tale, but only the beginning, in a new place, for new trials, new difficulties, but also new love and hope.
...I know this boy very well, and I know only some of their story - the basic outline of which I've roughly written here. It is true, it is painful, and it is - to me - beautiful. And hopeful.
The play - the experience - is, also, an experience of hope. Hope that springs from possibility. From possibility that springs from, perhaps, change. Which grows out of the truth that, in all things, though there may be darkness, there may also be light. May be goodness.
The grotesque of romanticism - the beautiful of and the ugly - is incredibly palpable here. There is puppetry: much of what tells the story is the puppets themselves - not just their actions, but their physical presence - as well as the fantastical elements of set and sound. The sets (and the puppets) are all very visibly hand made, hand painted, and stunning - gorgeous, in that crude (grotesque, if you will) way. That the entire show is, quite literally, hand-crafted, lends a heavy weight to the performance. Even the sound, the music, bears this element. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes crude, but never no less crafted, and always significant in what you find in it. It is - much like the world spinning 'round - inescapable.
A few notes not-necessarily-concerning-the-play:
Everything here is hand made. From the playbill to the sets to the music to the way they greeted me at the door. There is a warmness here, a desire to share their thoughts and images with someone, and I greatly appreciated this. It is so often the theater wants me to need it and scoff when I don't understand; here, the play needed me. And the play was not easy. It was challenging, but that challenge was thrilling, because they wanted me to engage with it, from the moment I walked in the door. I again cannot express how deeply this touched me.
Additionally, Bread and Puppet Theater has many events going on in NYC for their 50th Anniversary. One of which is an exhibit at the newly opened Queens Museum, which I, with much giddy excitement, look forward to engaging with next weekend.
I can only hope that so many others may be touched by their warmth, their passion, and their enthusiasm.