by Richard Hinojosa · March 10, 2015
Buckminster Fuller puppet (by Daniel Fay) | Jami Ross
In a world of the 360 degree marketing to our children corporations have made child influenced spending a multi-billion dollar business. Indoctrination into consumerism begins at a very early age. Toddlers can recognize a corporate logo as easily as they can a triangle or a square. The creators of Noodles Astray take this reality of our times and juxtapose it with the diminishing landscape of our once vibrant performing art scene in a manner that is both worthy of those better days and perhaps a harbinger of better times to come.
At curtain, a phony Namaste-spouting corporate rep leads a meeting of washed-up performance artists who were mysteriously selected for their new job by an “all-seeing algorithm”. The job – create a high-concept “edu-tainment” program for children under the ambiguous title Noodles Astray. The artists all have their particular backgrounds – one is a twisted puppeteer, another does naked whip painting, one other does epic rants in train station bathrooms and then there’s the guy who tied a rooster to his cock. So perhaps you’re thinking that this strange collective might not be the best one to produce a kid’s show. Well, that’s the point. The more bizarre the program the more likely it will be trending in the next day’s media feedbag. They are instructed to create a program that is “not a whimper but a bang… with shapes”.
The first program the collective comes up with focuses on teaching kids about squares by highlighting the modernist French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, who was famous for his boxy urban planning. Despite the fact that the collective’s intent was to make the point that Le Corbusier was as destructive as his designs were reductive, Noodles Astray becomes an overnight sensation. Meanwhile, the corporation is hosting a focus group of gullible, affluent moms, who have kids with names like Matisse and Genghis, in order to force upon them a data-mining device in the form of a plushy toy called Ohm Turtle. The central question becomes – how will the collective’s corporate logoed success impinge on their ethics as radical, independent artists.
The plot hops from scenes with the artist collective, to scenes with the focus group, to bizarre episodes of Noodles Astray in fast-paced transitions. Writer/director Andi Stover is as smart as they come. Her script is as high concept as the show within the show, Noodles Astray. Some of it may fly over your head while other segments may become lost in the existential malaise of the artists’ struggle for redemption however, I found myself laughing throughout. Stover’s script is poignant and hilarious. It is a brilliant parable of our times. I found the true brilliance within the details – the clever jingles, the influence of psychographics on everything and puppets operating cameras!
Puppet Master and co-director Daniel Patrick Fay’s designs are quite stunning. Made of paper mache and costumed in slick little black suits (Kirsty Sadler), the puppet versions of Le Corbusier and, later, Buckminster Fuller are star attractions. I was also very impressed with the design of the giant skeletal wolf/creature that appears in dreams to steal your teeth. Operated in table-top Bunraku style, the puppet segments are the most memorable and are among the most eccentric segments of the show. My favorite puppet scene is the dancing Bucky scene backed up with some cool video of the building of a geodesic dome. The entire ensemble pulls double duty as actors and puppeteers and they do some amazing work breathing life into these puppets.
The cast, Brandy Barber, Marcus Bishop-Wright, Ian Caskey, David Grice, Lawryn LaCroix and Heather Litteer, are all very talented performers in their own right. I was particularly taken in by Bishop-Wright’s “storm-trooper of culture” speech and by Caskey’s intensely odd energy. I really loved the transformation of the cast at the end, with the costume change and the performance art smack down!
The artist collective in Noodles Astray were said to have come out of now defunct venues such as Collective Unconscious and Surf Reality and indeed this production in much like something you would have seen there. Thankfully, we still have venues such as La Mama to continue NYC’s great tradition of experimental performance. Andi Stover and Aimee Davis founded the show’s producing company, LiveFeedNYC, with a mission to present video-infused performances in unexpected spaces. The infusion of video into this production offers a zoomed-in perspective on the puppet action while the live action focuses on the struggle of the artist to maintain integrity in the face of lucrative corporate contracts. If LiveFeedNYC is any indication of renewed integrity and vigor, I feel hopeful that the bygone days of our pulsating performing art community is ready to spring back to life.