There are many ways to tell a story. One can use language to convey meaning, one can provide images to depict what happened, or one can use the body to elucidate what the physical experience was like. In LOCO7’s new puppet piece at LaMaMa, In Retrospect, all of these elements are used. The piece works as a full sensory experience designed to get at the heart of memory and how it makes us human. The piece is often beautiful and poignant, filled with performative images that an audience member will not soon forget. To attempt to tease out a narrative plot from this piece would be a futile effort. Federico Restrepo, the piece’s co-creator, has written in the program that “this piece investigates how we construct our personal memory box: how we keep our memories fresh and preserve the things that made us who we are.” Indeed, there is the sense in this play that the audience is stepping into the personal memories of the people on stage. We are shown various images to which the three performers react, be they glass balls with photos in them that fall from the sky, a fabric wall of fishes, or an oversized and overstuffed touchtone phone. From the moment we move behind the play’s first image, that of three individuals staring out of their respective apartment windows, we have left the realm of distanced, fourth-wall, representational performance and entered something else entirely, something deeply personal.
Each one of the three performers participates in group performance numbers as well as solo pieces. Primarily, these scenes are constructed of dance and movement sequences accompanied by music. They are unique in that, often, their fellow dancers are puppets or other such material constructions. The creative team was very clever in their construction of all of the puppets and life-size puppet-costumes that they created. Each one introduces a sense of whimsy while still being detailed and expressive enough to evoke real emotion. Every object on stage, from the more traditional marionettes to the large music box from which a dancing doll appears, is as mesmerizing to watch as the dancers themselves.
The dancing is, however, the highlight of the evening’s entertainment, particularly Restrepo’s performance. This theme of memory is, at heart, always deeply tied to the human, thus making the human body the most effective tool in grappling with it. These dance sequences are rarely accompanied by any sort of text, yet they tell a powerful story about what happens when long-lost memories are triggered, how dreams weave into our experiences of the world, and how human interaction is what we long for and crave. Restrepo dances with body puppets of what appear to be him, one from his past childhood and one from his future of old age. Yet this scene also evokes the sense of a man dancing with both his father and his son. This image, however one chooses to read it, is powerful and extraordinarily human.
The play is underscored with beautiful live music. These compositions help to create fluid transitions as well as setting distinct moods for each sequence. The piece also includes several filmic interludes. The back wall, made of blinds, can ingeniously twist to become a projection screen. Despite the ingenuity of making this effect work on stage, these filmed scenes are the weakest elements included in the production. The poetic voiceovers are lovely but they are abstractions on the theme, often alienating the viewer from the live body on stage rather than highlighting that live body’s presence.
All in all, this play is nothing short of a work of art. In less than an hour’s time, it is able to trigger many strong emotions – especially those of love and sadness – through the simplest of theatrical tricks. The piece is hard to sum up in words because it is so special. It is worth experiencing for oneself. It will create a new memory worth storing for years to come in one’s own memory box.