MIRIAM may be short, but it takes the audience on a journey of Biblical proportions. Diane Allison’s wonderful 35-minute, one-woman puppet show MIRIAM: A Prophetess Who Found Herself on the Wrong Side of God, running at the New York International Fringe Festival, uses sorrow, humor, and memory to tell the story of Miriam, the prophetess of the Bible who saved her baby brother Moses by sending him down the river. This is the part of the story most people know, yet Miriam also spoke out against Moses’ marriage to a Cushite (Cushites being people from an Egyptian province) woman while in the desert, and as punishment God gave her a form of leprosy. The show is surprisingly moving and enlightening, as Allison, the playwright, converses with Miriam in her wounded state. It is here where the audience comes to know Miriam and hear the Exodus story in her own words. Miriam, now older, cannot comprehend why her brother would marry such a woman and why God would punish her for speaking against Moses’ actions. But as she travels through her memory, she finally understands, and the revelation is not just a revelation to her but to the audience as well. Miriam lets go of her anger towards her sister-in-law and to those that caused such misery in her life, a process the audience can recognize in their own lives.
Constructed by Allison, Miriam herself is a puppet of such beautiful design that she looks like a person, even though the face is motionless. The fixed façade, however, says everything. Allison has managed to make Miriam a living being in the few movements she has, distilling emotion down to turns of the head and gestures of the arms.
An example of first-rate storytelling, MIRIAM showcases the power of puppetry, voice, and memory in understanding a character and bringing a character to understanding.