Review: Humans and Objects at Play by the Neo-Futurists as Chicago International Puppet Festival Continues

Andersonville’s Neo Futurarium is the kind of hole in the wall, warren of a creative space that has made this city famous as a cultural destination, so it's some kind of wonderful that the up-the-stairs former dance hall is a featured venue for the 4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. The ensemble of improvisers, movers and theater artists have smooshed their signature Infinite-Wrench format of 30 plays in 60 minutes into an entertaining evening of object theater aligned with the Puppet Festival, a show appropriately named I, Object, or30 short puppet plays.

The show kicks off with a preamble in the Neo-Futurarium anteroom with two masterfully crafted and almost magical projection and shadow puppet works by Myra Su: "Inked" where her self and her alter ego play with a brush-painted landscape ( you can actually buy parts of the scrolled creation that is made each night in the lobby) and "String of Echoes," an excerpt of a larger work about canned seafood and the sea, which ends with perfect little illuminated boats literally sailing over our heads and out the door. Su is one of the masterminds behind the amazing work of Manual Cinema. (If you have not seen them yet, you need to put Manual Cinema on your list of cannot miss.)

Photo by Cody Nieset.

After Su’s pieces, audiences are roused up on their feet and taken into the main space and oriented to the nearly mayhem: you must shout out a number between 1 and 30 that corresponds to a short “play.” Some of the plays are more dada-esque performance art, such as Bread or Puppet (inside-puppet joke), where a cast member queries the audience, Bread??? Puppet??? Until someone answers and is done.  Latte Art consists of a Latte dropping to a paper and being held aloft. There are compelling and moving bits such as #10 about the Mars Rover Opportunity being silenced, and the namesake  I, Object  where each cast member presents an object that is meaningful to them and tells that story. The night I attended the cast managed to get through 29.75 of the plays before the darkroom clock on the wall buzzed and brought the show to an abrupt end. Ensemble members Neil, Jasmine, Dan, Trent, Connor and Annie are versatile and revealing performers who bring vulnerability and pathos to their fast-paced humor and full body and soul participation in the process.  This show will warm you.

I, Object plays Friday and Saturday, January 28-29, at 10:30pm, and Sunday, January 30, at 7pm, at the Neo Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland. Tickets are $30 ($20 for students). The Infinite Wrench will continue after the Puppet Festival ends so you can catch new plays in the same f.ormat every weekend.

The 4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, running through January 30, transforms Chicago into the Puppetry Capital of the World, presenting over 100 performances of more than 20 national and local shows and events at venues around the city. Visit the website to see the full line-up and purchase tickets. Follow the festival on FacebookInstagramor Twitter, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest, for the latest updates.

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Angela Allyn

Angela Allyn is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes ensemble building, community based arts and experience design. She writes about arts and culture for numerous publications and serves as Community Arts Coordinator at the City of Evanston.