With an Office Safety Manual on our laps and an old television set from the 1980’s on stage, a parody of an office safety video plays and sends the audience in a laughing spell. My favorite office safety warning is the segment on “corners,” one of the most dangerous incidents in the office that can occur, where coworkers run into one another at the perpendicular where walls meet, thus creating a blind spot. To solve this issue? Get rid of corners!
The television set disappears, and we see a middle-aged man puppet who sits quietly in an office desk reading the “Office Safety Manual.” He fidgets a few times trying to align the office supplies on his desk, making sure the post-its are equidistant from the corner of his desk, and he is particularly specific about his desk nameplate, Frank. He makes sure that his nameplate is exactly two finger widths apart on both sides of its surrounding. He does this for a few minutes (or more, a little too long), yes, he is obsessive and compulsive. The puppeteers’ fixing of Frank’s tie, straightening of his shirt, and wiping down the areas around him convinces us that Frank is a real character with an agenda. The comedy lies in Frank’s unfaltering stern expression and his execution; there is nothing more real to Frank than what is about to happen.
He walks to a nearby bench to have his lunch at the park. We wait in suspense for something mystical to appear; this isThe Pigeoning, after all. Oh, the pigeons show up. Yes! The pigeons. Beautifully made models. As you may be familiar with the pigeons of New York, they peck on the streets and come toward you if you have food. In this case, Frank with his sandwich sitting by the bench becomes a target. The pigeons unnerve Frank. This sparks a relationship between Frank and the pigeons that is explored through the end of the play.
The pigeons follow him to his office; they peck incessantly at his office window; they stalk him in the nearby telephone poll; they invade his dreams. He becomes obsessed and develops a theory that pigeons are plotting something. Poor Frank! His obsession spirals out of control in his comedic attempts to break the code of pigeon communication. He starts to stalk the pigeons, dresses up like one, and climbs through a telephone line and gets electrocuted. The puppeteers animate his body in a way that sends chills down your back, for a moment, you forget that Frank is a puppet and you believe in the head jerks, the tense of the neck, the tilt of the shoulders, the pain and the frustration his body goes through to get what he wants.
Frank’s obsession and the bizarre world of pigeons revealed is fairly reminiscent of Silvain Chomet’s short animated film The Old Lady and the Pigeons, where we are absorbed into a dark comedy about a man who becomes obsessed with the habits of pigeons and develops nightmares and theories that haunt him. Both provide a plot twist and comedic conclusion of events. Frank deciphers the secrets of the pigeons through the cooings that resemble morse code. With this secret, he embarks on a journey to save himself. An ironic ending shows a man transformed through his journey of accommodating his personality in the midst of a catastrophic real world problem.
The Pigeoning without fail brings you into the psyche of a lonely man. A dream that solicits both your laughter and empathy.
The Pigeoning Directed by Robin Frohardt; assistant directed by Erica Livingston;
WITH: Daniel Burnam (Puppeteer), Lillie Jayne (Puppeteer), Nick Lehane (Puppeteer), Rowan Magee (Puppeteer), Andy Manjuck (Puppeteer).
Music composed and performed by Freddi Price; lighting design by Heather Sparling; assistant lighting design by Dan Alaimo; safety videos written by Daniel Burnam, Erica Livingston, and Robin Frohardt; videos shot and edited by Robin Frohardt; actors safety video by Duncan Bindbuette, Erica Livingston, Lille Jayne, and Daniel Burnam.
Presented by HERE, a HERE Resident Artist Production and Dream Music Puppetry Presentation, at 145 6th Avenue, NYC 10013 (Entrace on Dominick St., one block south of Spring St.); (212) 352-3101, www.here.org, tickets are $20, plays Dec 3-22 as follows: Tuesday through Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm, additional performance Sunday, Dec 15 at 7pm, run time 1 hour 20 mins.