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Three Tales by Poe/Der Signàl
Doom and gloom-much of it self-inflicted-are on the menu for New Haven-based Puppetsweat company at La MaMa's Annex Theater. A crew of players in identical black top hats and coats holds forth before and behind a projection screen for a magical Three Tales by Poe. While a narrator off to one side reads the short stories, another as the author sits writing on the opposite side. Soon the large screen fills with shadows and projections. In a nice coincidence, the first tale begins in Indonesia, home to a great shadow puppet tradition. Told in first-person style, a man describes an infernal sea voyage toward the South Pole in MS Found in a Bottle. Initial doldrums give way to a raging storm so powerful it takes ship and all in a vortex to the bottom of the sea. In the middle of the churning sea, the unnamed man writes this story and sticks it in a bottle for some future reader.
Visual images mass on top of each other to give the sensation of waves and ice floes. Transparencies swim on the screen along with shadows cast by the puppeteers themselves and cutouts of the ship. Occasionally one of the players is out front near the audience to enact the man's foreboding thoughts via mime and stylized movement in Robert Bresnick's direction. Istvan Peter B'Racz's score intensifies the shifting light effects. The only distraction is that most of the players representing the story narrator are women, who might offer more subtle movement but are less believable in this context.
Without pause, the company continues with Man in a Crowd. The projected imagery switches to versions of Eisenstein films and Russian poster art from the 1930s. After so much frenzy for the first story, this brief one seems flat. The classic Tell-Tale Heart returns to the visual style of the opening. A bizarre old man with his menacing evil eye meets his death at the hands of a frightened fellow, who confesses the murder in fitting Dostoyevskian conclusion. Leslie Weinberg's projections incorporate drawing spirals around the doomed perpetrator to increase the sense of claustrophobia. Judicious use of red relieves the mostly black and white format.
It seemed an odd choice to put a two-page English summary of Vsevelod Gorschin's Der SignÓl in the program and then read it aloud in Yiddish during the action in a darkened theater. Luckily the plot is more or less clear. A signalman discovers deliberately broken tracks just before a passenger train is about to pass. With no time to fetch a red flag to alert the engineer, Semyon stabs himself to color a rag with blood. The train stops in time, but Semyon expires from over-bleeding to the curiosity cum horror of the saved passengers. A three-part screen shows all this with projections of black silhouettes for the people and short red pieces for blood. Broken train tracks have Expressionistic curves. While clever enough, this section coming after an intermission detracts from the unforgettable Poe opener.
THREE TALES BY POE/DER SIGN└L
Performed by Puppetsweat Theater
Director: Robert Bresnick
Puppet and Projection Design: Leslie Weinberg
Set: Karl Ruling
Performers: Matt Bedell, Carlos Diaz, Kelly Donovan, Rolande Duprey, Gerald B. Forbes, Sasha Harris-Cronin, Lindsey Hesock, Aggie Postman and Melissa Sylvester
Poe adaptations: Jill Cutler and Robert Bresnick
Composers: Istvan Peter B'Racz and Martin Bresnick
Stage manager: Adrian Gallard
La MaMa E.T.C. Annex Theater, 74A E. 4th Street (Bowery/2nd), NYC
Performances: 9/19/2000 through 9/24/2000