October 30, 2017
Little Shadow Productions packs a complete dystopian future into the intimate space of HERE’s lower level via a diverse array of puppetry to tell the tale of the Flatiron Hex, co-written by James Godwin and Tom Burnett. Godwin prowls the space, animating figures both physically present and cast by light among Burnett’s aural texture of sci-fi mayhem filtered through the cool breeze of film noir voiceover.
One must filter feed through the actual story, laced with another play’s worth of backstory and yet another’s worth of associative commentary. New York has become NYORG after some apocalyptic series of events. Wylie Walker is a contracted shaman/plumber who is tasked with protecting the city from one of the storms (it claims) threatens its citizens. After a botched rebooting of the city’s sentient mainframe, SAM, Walker’s firing brings him in cahoots with a mayor hopeful who could benefit from Walker finding the missing key that led to SAM’s malfunction, sending him along a messy and gory saga. Few end up being who they say they are, and most everything has been a set up, but Walker emerges affirmed in his own integrity.
Appropriately, the story features a multitude of characters, embodied in multiple ways. Compact physical puppets, designed by Godwin, don a slightly mannered realism with understated mutations except SAM, resembling the bust of a long necked dinosaur skeleton. The mayor of NYORG is a conjoined married couple. The NYORG employee behind the whole government scam is always seen from above a cylindrical desk. When Walker dismembers him, we realize that desk was actually part of his body.
One scene involves paper cutouts, the 2D sensibility of which extends to two vintage overhead projectors, an inventive use of obsolete technology to generate shadow puppetry of the distant future. Walker’s mother, as an uploaded consciousness appears in a freestanding projection box before a video message of her is actually represented with a floating 3D manifestation. The Tongue (the mayor hopeful) is introduced as a projection, whose unchanging face sputters all over the projector from the lisp he speaks with. We later see the tongue in 3D as having been a disguise for the actual mayor the whole time. The projections literally reveal alternate dimensions of the same characters, most of which serve to deceive.
It is unfair to simply call Godwin a puppeteer. His performance comes close to actual omnipotence as he portrays a life-sized Walker, animates every puppet with individually realized voices, and operates extraneous props with vaudevillian fluency. The story truly only serves Godwin’s performative inventiveness, but his inventiveness is the rare kind that actually deserves to be seen for its own sake.
There is, however, a sharp point of view. That shamanism and technology have become one speaks to our current dependence on technology as a real kind of magic, exemplified by one’s difficulty remembering the proper incantation to make her home 3D printer produce a cookie. The packed plot, too, works to help us see this future in a more contemporary light, challenging us to follow along in character via the same hyperconsciousness one can attain in a future in which consciousness can be downloaded and impossible puzzles can be solved with the help of mind-expanding spores.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews