Thu Mar 27 2008
Photograph: Richard Termine
You might expect a puppeteer to have a God complex. All those hours in the workshop, building little creatures out of wood or cloth, animating them, making them speak—it could give anyone delusions of omnipotence. The puppet-master-as-deity conceit lies at the center of Kevin Augustine’s astonishing Bride, in which he and 14 manipulators and musicians create an utterly bizarre and spellbinding fable about (are you ready?) the millennia-old shift from polytheism to monotheism. Oh, and it’s a heartbreaking family tale as well.
In this gothic fantasia, the Father (a heavily made-up Augustine) is a senile, ochre-skinned wraith whose Heaven resembles the trash-strewn retro-industrial world of the movie Brazil. Shouting into phones to answer a flood of prayers or consulting his crumbling scriptures, this decaying patriarch desperately needs help. He creates an Idea in the form of a plug-ugly but endearing puppet child (Augustine’s deformed homunculi are made of rubber foam and paint). In a long middle section, the Father trains the Idea to be a kind of perfect-bodied messiah (symbolized by the dancer James Graber). Tragically, the Idea can’t live up to the Father’s expectations, and faces sacrifice. To say more would be spoiling the story, which ends with a jaw-dropping tableau in which an absent matriarch returns.
The action is performed with enveloping sound design by Dave Malloy and haunting live music by Andrea La Rose. Augustine’s meticulous, almost classical performance anchors the slightly meandering plot. Over the 90-minute running time, some scenes do go on too long, but the lush, nightmarish visuals rarely bore. In the church of puppet artistry, Augustine is divine.