Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Trouble Puppet Theater's Toil & Trouble-- BRAVO!!

Note before we get to the review: This is my last Austin theater review, at least for the foreseeable future. I might still squeeze in an occasional bit of commentary regarding the amazing stage offerings we have here, but for the most part it’s time to move on. I have had such a swell time the past five years covering plays and festivals first for the Austinist and then here at the blog. But I’ve got a couple of projects I’m about to launch—one of them which will hopefully become very big— and I need to focus all energy there. Oh, and yes, I am also about to self-publish my next book, The Maine Event, which I hope to have out by next month. Toward that end, I am running a KickStarter Campaign where you can, in essence, pre-order copies of the book. I really hope you’ll consider doing that.
Thanks for all the great shows, Austin!

Last Friday dawned and with it came a troubled gut. Rare for me to take ill, but this is super busy work season for me and I have to be so careful not to overdo it or else. So I knew I should really go home to bed, right after work. But doing so would mean surrendering seats I had reserved for Toil & Trouble, A Troubling Turn on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which opened last weekend at Salvage Vanguard Theater. I wrestled with this. And then I rallied. Because I just did not want to miss the production—The Trouble Puppet Theater Company has, time and again, presented rich, in-depth, stunning plays. This time, as my grumbly stomach and I predicted would be the case, was no different.

Connor Hopkins, who heads up TPT (and whom I’ve interviewed), looks at the world differently than a lot of people. This is such a good thing, and Austin is so fortunate that Hopkins has chosen our city in which to pull his strings. Drawn to dark works of literature, these he studies at length before adapting for his puppet wizardry. But there’s more to it than just the puppets, which are haunting and believable and stunningly emotionally nuanced (an interesting feat considering each gets but one facial expression).

Hopkins surrounds himself with a coven of puppet witches, actors who breathe life into his creations. Herein lies the major magic—TPT players are both fully present and totally invisible as needed. They speak in character, some of them taking on the roles of several characters. Dressed in muted browns, their physical bodies fade into the background, and yet they pour energy into their little stringed players, animating them to larger than life proportions.

How the eff do they do that, and do it so well, and do it show after show? I don’t know, but I find myself at TPT shows sometimes wanting to shift mental gears and try to examine the actors’ methods, try to figure out how they manage to sustain such rich language and carefully choreographed moves at once—and bear in mind that, because two or three people might be moving a puppet, this choreography is trickier still.

But always, any efforts to study technique are thwarted by the drama at hand. In this case, we have an adaptation of Macbeth, a comeuppance tragedy if ever there was one. The karma rained down upon the ruthless, power hungry aspiring king might not be instant, but its close enough. Talk about a troubled puppet.

Toil & Trouble is so exceptionally rendered that clearly it is the child of tremendous effort by many. The list of those who came together to make this show happen is a long one. I’d like to give a shout out to the entire cast—Zac Crofford, Rocky Hopson, Katy Horan, Ellie McBride, Caroline Reck, Gricelda Silva, Jose Villarreal, and Zeb L. West—for pouring so much love and talent into their art. Behind the scenes, great effort was also exerted, and the list includes some of Austin’s best, brightest, and award-winning talent, including: Connor Hopkins, Kathryn Rogers, Meredith Balderston, Graham Reynolds, Buzz Moran, Chris Owen, K. Eliot Haynes, Stephen Pruitt, Monica Gibson, Kim Soriano, Marc Smith, Robert Matney and Shelby Mitchusson.

Congratulations to the Trouble Puppet Theater on another jaw-dropping show. I’m so glad I decided to tell my troubled stomach to shut up and go. What an evening. The show is only playing through November 18, 2012, so get your tickets asap, before you miss your chance. 

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