No strings

The Mechanical

By J. E. Cross
The ClockWorks
508 East 12th Street 614-0001
Non-union company
Extended through November 9
Review by Marshall Yaeger

The usual problem in a puppet show is how to hide the wires, operators, and ven-triloquists. The oobr Award-winning Cosmic Bicycle Theatre gloried in its fail-ures on that score.

In this relentlessly bleak, anti-war, musical tragedy, illusion didn't come from objects masquerading as alive. In the land-scape of the dead, the one-eyed spoon be-comes a king. But only for a day.

The script, a few dozen lines long, was about as unassuming as you can get. Clichés and doggerel abounded amidst a weak and eerie narrative, with no resound-ing revelations. The play seemed to say that death and destruction are so endemic that if nothing but objects existed they would come to life just to blow up the necropolis and bury all hope.

The message wasn't cheery. But it was delivered in contradictory fashion with a humorously funereal buoyancy, theatrical delicacy, and cartoonish sensitivity that would never complicate the lives of any Sesame Street puppet-master.

These masters played their tiny theatre (billed, without hyperbole, as ``the most intimate off-off-Broadway'') like an organ console, pulling out such stops as the eponymous bicycle wheel, delicately fashioned bombs, antique candle snuffers, reverently treated eggs and real egg beat-ers, finials, the fluttering wings of a bird, military helmets, ladders and struts, marching shoe trees, miniature coffins, roller skates, skulls, a godlike trumpet puppet, umbrella handles, well-oiled wheels--and, in a soupçon of sadomasochism, a miniature leather harness and instruments of torture.

A baby doll played the ingenue and ran about (when not cradled in its perfect gravy boat), something like the succubus from Alien. Charlie McCarthy's head was featured as the villain Führer. Finally, as ``He,'' the main character, the wooden spoon glued on a dour face. Spoons have no legs; and so, with Chaplinesque logic, this character valiantly struggled to move about, and thereby illustrated how limita-tions can define an art form.

Some delightfully inverted coffee pots played cameo roles. Their sunglasses de-fined their eyes, and lids become convinc-ing jaws.

Rising up and down like robots im-paled on machines, the ghoulishly androg-ynous macabre cast (J. E. Cross, Sean-Michael Fleming, Matt Lavin, and Chris Maresca), clad in Victorian garb, were as interesting to watch as the puppets they manipulated.

The production had a Brecht-Weil, Weimar sound to it, especially because of the effective accordion. Finger cymbals, drums, gongs, bells, wires, metal plates, and whispers added mystery.

In this small theatre, so loaded with symbolism, death triumphed utterly. The good guys never had a chance, because the bad guys took no prisoners. But no one failed to exhibit considerable imagination.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger

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