Theater review: Torry Bend's latest puppet masterpiece If My Feet Have Lost the Ground | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

Theater review: Torry Bend's latest puppet masterpiece If My Feet Have Lost the Ground 

Powerful puppetry in If My Feet Have Lost the Ground

Photo by Nick Graetz

Powerful puppetry in If My Feet Have Lost the Ground

You no longer have to be a mystic to believe that subtle, unseen entities move and hold the world together. A basic knowledge of biology or physics will do the trick.

Where devas and angels were once believed to pull the levers of creation, cyanobacteria and the "strong force" of atomic science are now on the job. Thus a character in Tony Kushner's Angels in America refers to the ozone layer as "the crowning touch to the creation of the world: guardian angels, hands linked, mak[ing]... a shell of safety for life itself."

There are also humans who do this work, unobserved. The central character in Torry Bend's new puppet theater work, IF MY FEET HAVE LOST THE GROUND, may have the portentous name of Grace, but she's clearly no Hindu deva or Buddhist bodhisattva. She's a smart modern woman who encounters a curious envelope on a business flight one day, cached in the pocket of the seat ahead of her. Aside from a foreign return address, only two words—"Read Me"—appear on the envelope's exterior. Inside, the woman finds a living, healthy human heart.

With Halloween so near, it bears clarifying: No gothic horror music accompanies this revelation. It's obvious that we're in the presence of a magical realism that is perhaps indebted to Federico García Lorca or Wim Wenders, but definitely not to Edgar Allen Poe.

Grace writes to the heart's presumed owner to say she has it and takes it home with her. From that point on, the heart becomes the only other onstage character for most of this wordless 85-minute performance. In that time, Bend probes the veracity—and dilemmas—inherent in a series of metaphors having to do with the source and center of human feelings and relationships.

Entrusted, by chance, with the heart of another—as we all are, sooner or later—Grace fumbles as she learns to take care of it. Significantly, no common tongue joins the two; what's been called the inarticulate speech of the heart is expressed only in a single, specific animal sound. Through trials and errors, some more comic than others, Grace learns to comfort and coexist with her guest, though she cannot fully understand it.

Audiences that were astonished at the filmic dimensions of Bend's The Paper Hat Game will find here an artist who has pushed puppetry even further into the cinematic.

Bend's experimental set design centers on what first appears to be a translucent version of a dry-erase whiteboard. But as that surface tilts and moves to support Anna Nickles and Sarah Krainin's puppets, we view Grace's world through a series of different angles. Raquel Salvatella de Prada and Jon Haas' video designs manipulate our perspective and point of view. In one moment, as Jil Christensen's brisk piano score unfolds, we're walking alongside Grace as she navigates a moving walkway at an airport. In the next, we're viewing that same passage from an aerial shot.

Despite the considerable ingenuity put into making a puppet theater work look and act, in real time, like a film, and a plot whose increasingly mystic quest touches on death and transformation, I felt the true magic in this work lay somewhere else.

In Bend's earlier pieces, curtains bordered the stage. With them removed here, we watched as four puppeteers—Jamie Bell, Drina Dunlap, Amanda Murray and Becky Woodrum—worked throughout the show. Crisply and efficiently, they manipulated set pieces and rotated the stage. But it repeatedly took all four of them to articulate Grace's joints and limbs and walk her through the scenes.

So carefully they held her, and the heart she found in the world. And their faces were so solemn as they bent toward their characters: storytellers who knew the ending of the tale even as they began it.

It was a meta-moment in which what happens in Bend's pensive script was also taking place among the performers on stage. My thoughts returned to Wenders' Wings of Desire as I watched these compassionate, interceding figures make Grace's life possible. And on the trip home, alone, I wondered about the unseen ones that make ours work as well.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Master of puppets"

  • Bend's magical new show is currently running at Manbites Dog.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater



Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

I commend Mr.Woods on his insight. There is a lot to think about in both his article and the following …

by natty on Justice Theater Project's superbly sung and choreographed The Color Purple has one fatal flaw (Theater)

I saw this show in Chapel Hills. This was the first time I had seen a Paperhand's show. It was …

by Irene Griest on Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s The Beautiful Beast Makes Merry With Monsters of Myth and Memory (Theater)

Great review! Fans of Decision Height and the Women's Theatre Festival may also want to check out The ArtsCenter's interview …

by The ArtsCenter on Superheroines Historical and Fantastical Power Two Memorable Women's Theatre Festival Shows (Theater)

Four of our friends accompanied us to this production. We have seen other Wendy Ward productions and loved them all …

by Gann Watson on Embark on a Timely Voyage Into Immigration Issues in I Wish You a Boat (Theater)

Thanks for the correction, Dustin. The playbill listed the wrong actor in the role.

by Byron Woods, INDY Theater and Dance Critic on Evaluating Bare Theatre's Experiment in Free Public Shakespeare on the Eve of Its Final Show (Theater)

Comments

I commend Mr.Woods on his insight. There is a lot to think about in both his article and the following …

by natty on Justice Theater Project's superbly sung and choreographed The Color Purple has one fatal flaw (Theater)

I saw this show in Chapel Hills. This was the first time I had seen a Paperhand's show. It was …

by Irene Griest on Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s The Beautiful Beast Makes Merry With Monsters of Myth and Memory (Theater)

Most Read

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation