by Collin McConnell · March 14, 2014
I will admit to having a certain amount of assumptions when going into a play with puppetry. Sesame Street and the Muppets seem to have a monopoly on our brains when it comes to puppets, in spite of forms like Bunraku or works such as Avenue Q. We even somehow manage to forget the darkness in Jim Henson's non-Muppets work, that it is much more adult than we like to think (or thought when we were kids). Which is certainly not a deterrent - I go out of my way to see work with puppetry in it. There is a joy in puppetry, a freedom in being one obvious step removed from "real life" (as if going to the theater were not enough). It is why, I think, both Sesame Street and Avenue Q are successful, why Jim Henson's work endures. And some of us adults get great pleasure out of works intended for children, be they books, movies, or museums - there is something magical in them, for all of us.
And yet, there is an assumption. That that one obvious step removed from real life is going to protect us, keep us away from even the possibility of something haunting, shocking, frightening...
Sofie Krog and David Faraco's The House certainly did away with those assumptions. And brilliantly so.
Everyone in The House has a stake in the last will and testament of the dying Undertaker of the funeral home - the gold-digging niece, the mysterious pair of bumbling burglars, and the dog. And here, that the walls can talk is the least surprising event of this darkly comic evening...
...And that is the most I am willing to tell about this piece, because that surprise mentioned in the pre-show announcement is so much more than just the initial reveal of the house itself (which is quite incredible, quite magical, on it's own). The bigger surprises are what the characters that populate The House are willing to do, and just how far they go...
Again, this is a play done entirely through puppetry. How invested I was, how excited I became (how far my mouth was able to gape open at moments), is a true testament to the incredible artistry of Sofie Krog and David Faraco. The two of them have created and control this entire world, which would be impressive enough since this world is populated by a cast of seven. But these characters fully live in this world - opening doors, grabbing letters, carrying coffins with corpses spilling out... It is beyond me: the craft is so clean; it is truly magical.
And all the puppetry here is magical. Cuco Pérez's music enriches this world with a wonder fit for Disneyland (the song playing as I entered the theater instantly transported me to walking down Main St.), and satirically romps along as the more gruesome of the events play out. The practical elements of the lighting - lamps, flashlights, candles - manage to draw me further and further into the reality of this puppet world, forcing me to believe in it. (I also have to wonder, in terms of design, if the intense smell of flowers that pervaded the downstairs lobby and house when we entered was not intentional. It seemed only too appropriate...) And, of course, the craft behind the puppets themselves is remarkable, but that their movement is so cleanly cartoonish is a puppetry of emotion and surprise when it so marvelously contrasts with the more frightening things that both the characters are willing to do and that which happens to them...
There is a note in the playbill:
We love puppets as they are not bound by any rules, they are free to be magical in the universe we create for them.
The truth in this statement is well embodied in The House. The evening was so fun, so joyous, specifically because it seemed everything was created with a sense of playfulness, of wonder, of possibility... and an excellent (if not often dark) sense of humor.
A Personal Note:
I'm sure you've already noticed, but The House might not be considered "appropriate" for children. There were a handful of kids in the audience when I saw it, and I think they greatly enjoyed themselves, but I would not bring a child to this show just because it has puppetry in it - puppetry certainly does not mean "for kids."
That is, of course, not to say this show is not for children. That depends on parenting, and I would never, never discourage anyone from bringing a child to something challenging. Please bring your children - just know what you are in for.