Girl, Manipulated

The digitally tweaked photos of "Carly TV" are technically impressive but to what end?

More to the point, according to Schumann, puppetry is a vital form of theater: "We sometimes give you a piece of bread along with a puppet show because our bread and theater belong together. We want you to understand that the theater is not yet an established form, not the place for commerce you think it is, where you pay to get something. Theater is different. It is more like bread, more of a necessity."

Whatever. Sociopolitical theory aside, Schumann and company have created some breathtaking larger-than-life puppets, some of them so large they have to be operated from the inside by several people at once. (The troupe often recruits large numbers of volunteers, children as well as adults, to assist in its performances.) For this exhibition the figures have been arranged in a handful of sprawling installations that are essentially remnants, documentations of the live performances in which they were once used.

The puppets for Oedipus Rex, for example, were originally part of a 1995 performance, complete with symphony orchestra, of the opera/oratorio by Igor Stravinsky. Here they command a small gallery to themselves. Sixteen life-size ones, clad in white robes and featuring eerie faces with eyeholes, are lined up at equal intervals in the center of the room. Others, including a bride and groom, hang from the walls. It's a commanding installation, as is the one in the adjacent gallery, Birth, Crucifixion & Resurrection of Archbishop Romero, commemorating the assassinated Salvadoran cleric.

Francie Bishop Good's Blue Dress (2000) shows us maybe a bit too much of her niece Carly
Francie Bishop Good's Blue Dress (2000) shows us maybe a bit too much of her niece Carly

The Bread & Puppet folks work with cheap, simple ingredients -- fabric, wood, clay, papier mâché -- and an intentional crudeness, a rough-around-the-edges quality gives their work a volatile intensity. Their creations have a visceral power far surpassing that of a lot of much more polished art.

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