Puppetry in Los Angeles – The Reptile Under the Flowers

Song of the Day: 미인아  by Super Junior

Friday afternoon. 3 p.m. I keep anxiously glancing at the clock. When will it ever be 5 p.m.? It’s been a long week. All I want to do is go home. That Bollywood movie I checked out from the local Indian grocery, a plate of food, perhaps a glass of something are all enticing. I get a call. ‘Would you like to join me for a beach bonfire?’ I ponder it for a second – beach bonfire with a bunch of strangers or a solitary Bollywood movie night? That movie still seems more exciting. I can always attend the next beach bonfire. I hardly could be moved to a night of socialising with strangers. 4:30 p.m. A half hour more. Time couldn’t move any slower. And just as I am about to cheer at 4:59 p.m., I get another call. ‘Would you like to join me for a puppet show in L.A?’ Contemplation time once again. I have never been to a puppet show. What are the odds of getting such an opportunity any time soon? That movie is not due back for another few days. Hmm. Decision made. Are there any tickets still available? What would you know? I find tickets online. Click buy. No backing out now.

Before I know it, it is 7:30 p.m. and we’re driving on the freeway, battling the ever-congested L.A. traffic. On the drive, J. explains that we were about to see a walk-through diorama performance spanning fifteen rooms. Obviously this means absolutely nothing to me. I don’t even know what a diorama performance is – a clean slate waiting to experience the show with no prior thoughts or expectations. Perfect.

We arrive at our location a little over half an hour after we set out, and my first impression of The Giraffe Space, was to wonder how they were to house, in that tiny place, a show that spans fifteen rooms. Oh well. There must be other rooms in the back to which we would be led. We check in and realise that we had about an hour to kill before the 9 p.m. show.

Anyhow, we spend our time whilst waiting at a vegan café across the street, Tribal Cafe, where a rock band was playing. The interior of the place is quite interesting – it looks like a hole in the wall shack. The tables were all crammed into the tiny interior but with an art at setting a welcoming space. It makes you want to sit down, drink their overpriced coffee ($5 for a latte?!), and have ‘deep’ conversations. We just do exactly that minus the conversation as we listen to a very Joy-Division-like-sounding band of three very hip Korean guys playing. Soon our time is up and off we go to see our show.

-eiser-eptile-3mx__largeSo, The Reptile Under the Flowers, is a walk-through diorama performance that integrates puppetry, peep shows, mechanical performing objects and miniature projections, music, with fifteen individual stations and the assistance of no fewer that fourteen puppeteers. It builds a narrative through the accumulation of small actions and events, and follows the intersecting lives of a father and son. It is inspired by the lead character in Henrik Ibsen’s penultimate play, John Gabriel Borkman, and is an especially ambitious example of the painstakingly complexity production involved. I would not want to divulge more than that so as to not ruin it for any future viewers who might read this.

As we are being ushered to a miniature set over which two girls were standing, I realise that the fifteen rooms were actually those miniature sets. But don’t get me wrong, you are immediately engrossed in the narrative that moving from one set to the next less than 100m away becomes hardly noticeable. I have to say that there was something poignant about the way the puppets were so skilfully handled.

What were my thoughts on the show? As soon as the show ended, I glanced to a girl (whose tights we had admired earlier) standing next to me sniffling and wiping tears. I smiled empathically and walked out, to which I replied to J.’s questioning glance: ‘That was so depressing!’

That statement was greeted by a chuckle from one of the two gentlemen, visiting L.A. from Kansas City for a theatre conference, who we had met before the show. This led, of course, to a discussion on the show – entirely appropriate as they were both puppeteers (check out their work here). My impressions differed from their immensely, and naturally so – they had seen so many of these kinds of production and had a larger repertoire to use as comparison.

Anyhow, the narrative is interesting. The recurrent thought in my head whilst I watched it was that the creator whoever they may is a cynic. (Turns out it was created by one Janie Geiser.) There isn’t any room for optimism or hope in her narrative. It tugs at your heart strings. And by the end, I was left emotionally drained. It is rare that I actually have a physical or emotional reaction to a performance, and even though I was not sniffling and wiping tears, I was moved and felt very sad.

Would I recommend it? Without a doubt. I think if any of you get an opportunity, should it come to a city near you, please go and see it.

Till Next Post!

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10 thoughts on “Puppetry in Los Angeles – The Reptile Under the Flowers

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