Do adults go to watch children’s plays? Or to be more precise, do adults go to watch children’s puppet theatre…without children accompanying them? The answer, for me, was a resounding yes. I had been hoping to take my grandchildren to at least some of the puppet theatre festival be at Ranga Shankara, under the AHA! banner.
The “Same-Same” theme of the festival. Pic: Deepa Mohan
Language and music classes in the evenings prevented my grandchildren from coming along with me, but when a friend, Harini Srinivasa Rao, told me that she could not utilize her three tickets, I jumped at the chance, and converted my evening walk into an evening, watching “Squirrel Stole My Underpants”, staged by
a Boston-based ensemble. It was a show for “children above 4 years”, and since I counted myself in, I settled in amongst the full house of children, parents, grandparents and family.
The queue (it was a full house). Pic: Deepa Mohan
The 45-minute performance was carried by Bonnie Duncan, with auburn curls, a printed frock with a gingham apron, with preppy socks and shoes. Two musicians, Brendan Burns & Tony Leva , kept up the tempo and mood of the show on the electronic cello and guitar. These instruments, which were very slim, shaved-down versions of the traditional ones, were as interesting to me as the rest of the show.
The musicians on the left of the stage. Pic: Deepa Mohan
Though the stage setting was very simple — a clothes stand of two poles with lines! What “Sylive”, the main character, brought to the narrative was, like Baa Baa Black Sheep’s wool, three bags full of props. She started with putting out a large bedsheet, which served later as the screen for the hand puppets. She then added the laundry, and showed especial happiness when putting out the pink underpants to dry. Almost immediately, the squirrel turned up, and off he went, after several hilarious attempts, with that article of underclothing. As Sylvie chased him, out came a smorgasbord of articles and clothing f from those three bags…including a blue-curtain sea, a bag that she could step into and create a boat out of, a sun, a cloud to hide the sun, and so on….in sunny weather and rain, she chased the naughty squirrel.
Sylvie and her clothesline. Pic: Deepa Mohan
It was delightful to see that both the performer and the squirrel had smaller-size puppets to represent them; reality and fantasy flowed into one another with great ease, in just the way it does in childhood. Several times, the audience applauded spontaneously, cheering on the performer and her narrative.
Some papiermaiche puppets in the foyer. Pic: Deepa Mohan
The two musicians, producing a variety of sounds, evoked different moods and enhanced the production very well. The cello was tuned frequently; I did not know whether it just fell out of tune or the accompanying music required the re-tuning. But it was obvious that the musicians, too, were enjoying the spectacle playing out in front of them! At several points, the audience joined in the rhythm of the music, clapping along.
Three-quarters of an hour slipped by fast, and once the show was done and the performers had taken their bows, Bonnie gave a delightful Mime 101, inviting the entire audience to mime taking a cupful of “the most yucky thing” imaginable, trying to drink it, and spitting it out. The audience, even the adults, followed the instructions gleefully. This involvement caused another round of applause at the end.
The innovative use of props (I never knew that a pair of brown trousers and several green underpants could become a tree!) was a highlight of the show.
Speaking of highlights, the light design also added considerably to the visual appeal of the show. Now bright, now dimmed, they followed Sylvie on her adventure of search. Alas, we were not told who handled the lights!
The directorial touch was subtle and never intrusive; the audience had the feeling of a smoothly-performed show. It helps when the play has been around for a few years, but the director’s hand is always needed at every production!
It was a delightful show, simple without being cloying, and it was very obvious that the children and the children-at-heart enjoyed it very much. I am sure many in the audience would follow Bonnie’s suggestion and try their hands at puppetry or mime.
Pic: Deepa Mohan
continues until 20th July,2019.
Squirrel Stole My Underpants
July 15, 2019, at Ranga Shankara
No language; puppetry and mime.
Created and performed by Bonnie Duncan
Music by Brendan Burns & Tony Leva
Directed by Dan Milstein
Costumes by Penney Pinette
Set by Hamideh Rezaei-Kamalabad
As an aside: Ranga Shankara needs to either update or close down its FaceBook page, which only gives details of the AHA! Festival from 2017.
Small workshops and performances by and for the children also taking place in the foyer area. Pic: Deepa Mohan