The Puppets and the Cooks

Loud music begins playing and suddenly a Santa Claus emerges from the theater doors, followed by a group of people dressed as chefs, each playing an instrument. They process through the theater's lobby and out into the street, where they continue to make music. After a few moments, they return inside, leading an expectant audience back into the theater, eager to see the newest production from Bread and Puppet Theater, The Sourdough Philosophy Spectacle and Circus . All the elements of a Bread and Puppet show are there—cheaply constructed yet breathtaking puppets, dance, music, and a political message. And yet, this show does not deliver. The stated purpose of the performance is to explore the “need for human fermentation,” the need to cast off the restraints of the government and its message of conformity. However, the story gets lost somewhere in the mix, yielding not an audience ready to break free of their bonds, ready to take up the banner of activism, but rather one that is confused and unfortunately, a bit bored.

The group of cooks introduce themselves as the “Sourdough Singers.” They mostly speak an unintelligible gibberish. Their first dance features the brass instruments played in a breathy manner; it's not music so much as wind that comes out of them. The cooks end up in a straight line, moving their arms up and down. Only one person is fully visible in the line, the rest become arms following her lead. Shortly after the line, giant man puppets are brought onstage.

The giant (at least fifteen feet tall) puppets are quite frightening, and are maneuvered in such a way by the puppeteers that they hover disapprovingly above the audience's head. Their purpose may be obvious- if one had been given a synopsis of the show—they are those who seek to control humans, who make sure everyone stays in line. They are initially intimidating, but they ultimately don't do anything besides mutter a bit before being placed against the stage walls to watch the remainder of the performance.

The bulk of the show is what the company has called the “Storm Office—the Storm Poem and Implementation Machine.” The implementation machine object is quite adorable, a pulley and crank system that raises and releases a hammer that then hits a fire alarm bell. The machine itself kept breaking; the rope would fall off the pulley and not raise the hammer, requiring a human hand to aid it in pulling up. This malfunction was slightly charming, and I hope, intentional, a reminder of the company's dedication to cheap art.

After the appearance of the giant men puppets and the machine, it was hoped that the Storm Office would continue the visual stimuli of the show, since the verbal was almost forgotten. There was narration, particularly during the Storm Poem, but it was not engaging in the least. Sadly, the visuals in this section were lacking as well, and were without explanation. There was an inexplicable tin bathtub that rattled threateningly, several giant headed puppets and very often a simple white puppet who seemed to be the focus of the section.

Even the most lovingly baked bread sometimes doesn't rise quite right. The intent of the company never quite comes through in The Sourdough Philosophy Spectacle and Circus . However, in an age of garishly expensive theater that not many people can afford, it is a relief that Bread and Puppet continues to operate with the same spirit that they have had for 45 years.

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