Moving from Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace Project, to the 2013 Montreal Fringe Festival, to Tarragon Theatre’s Extraspace, comes Artichoke Heart’s twisted puppetry piece We Walk Among You. Directed by Tijiki Morris, this piece tells the story of a man obsessed with bringing back his deceased son and willing to do whatever it takes to make his family whole again. Morris says their “primary focus when [Artichoke Heart] began creating We Walk Among You was ‘what makes a monster?’ ” It is very clear upon viewing the show that they got their answer.
At only 60 minutes long, the play tells us a very simple story dealing with life, death and obsession. Performed through puppetry, the cast does an amazing job at portraying the characters through a combination of movement and sound. The puppets (constructed by Lin-Mei Lay) were very simplistic in nature, made out of your average house-hold objects. This simplicity gives the puppets a charming, yet eerie quality, which blends perfectly with the over all bizarre and creepy style. Combined with the puppeteers’ incredible movements and sounds, it was easy to believe that an upside-down umbrella was a devastated mother, a green shag carpet and gloves is a dedicated scientist and father, and a bag with stuffing was a cute reanimated miscreant. The cast did a fantastic job at not upstaging the puppets, and often times we became so engrossed with what the actual puppets were doing we forgot the puppeteers were even there.
Flavia Hevia’s set design was complex and detailed, creating a very unique world for the puppets to live in. Resembling classic mad scientist castle-based laboratories, the set is quite flexible and changes over the course of the piece. The details in the dungeon are especially impressive right down to the scratched up metal walls. Major kudos also have to be given to Foley artist (and co-fight director) Alexandra Barberena for her onstage creation of sound effects. Using various instruments from xylophones, bongos and violin bows, to random house hold objects like plastic cups, Barberena creates all sounds in real time onstage. The sounds are used for music and to characterize the various puppets.
This is a great performance to take the family to see. Be warned though that some of the theatrics are slightly unnerving. Artichoke Heart manages to capture the charm of the Muppets and the creepiness of Tim Burton to deliver a piece of theatre that is incredibly beautiful. It also proves to be very thought-provoking, with all of its dark themes of life, death, innocence and obsession. Working with puppets is never an easy task, but Artichoke Heart managed to use to them to create a captivating piece of theatre.
We Walk Among You is running until October 12th. For more information, visit http://artichokeheartcollective.wordpress.com/past-productions/we-walk-among-you/.