Review by David Walters
Usually, when I go to review a play I take copious notes, filling up several pages with thoughts, quotes, and observations.
After the applause had died away at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival presentation of Feos and the house lights came up to full, I looked down at the pages in my hand, all I had written was: Feos. Unable to take my eyes away, mesmerized by the sights I was seeing and the words I was hearing, I had become petrified for the full 50 minutes of the performance, transfixed by what I was watching.
Puppeteers create life with inanimate objects, anthropomorphizing to give the illusion that there is existence. Chilean theater troupe Teatro y Su Doble, utilizing multimedia storytelling, borrowing techniques from Bunraku-style puppetry and animation, create lives lived.
This production is an adult story about love, about a longing for deep connection expressed through desire by two people with physical facial deformities that make little children scream. Each scene and each moment is tender in its expression of underlying meaning and artfully and playfully expressed in the exchange between the two characters.
They notice each other in a line going into a movie theater, drawn by the automatic link of their deformed faces. After the movie, he approaches her and stumbles his way to asking her to go for coffee. They know they have much in common, but the admittance only intensifies who they are (seeing a self-reflection).
They work from home mostly in order to avoid the stares, the pitty and the uncomfortableness their presence brings to most every human encounter. A movie isn’t too bad, it’s night, it’s dark in the theatre, they won’t be seen too much or noticed.
At the cafe we sit, entranced, watching two puppets at a cafe table for 45 minutes talking about their deep emotions and hang on every word as they begin to touch each other’s souls and move past their limitations, the very thing that drew them to first notice each other.
The waiter pops in occasionally, automatically accepting the couple as customers and as people with something in common in the throes of deep communication. He has had recent relationship problems and seeing the connection between the moviegoers elicits jealousy and humor as he reflects out loud. His humorous interjections to their conversation produce a commonality of experience between his customers that bring them closer in the shared experience.
They do go home to his apartment, make love in the semi-dark, fall asleep and wake up together.
The intimacy that is created and the soul connection that is formed between the two of them is somehow emotionally deeper watching these two puppets experience it.
The intricacies of the slight movements of each character are spellbinding, minute and emotionally motivated. A twist of the wrist, a hand scratching a nose, a simple gesture and slight tilt of the head, a wiggling of a foot, an arm crossing the stomach in defense after saying something that exposes maybe a little too much self to the other, a hand moving hair strands away from the face, the artistry of the puppeteer in creating life is magical in this story. I should open a thesaurus and write down every superlative here.
With all the beauty of the form and the delicacy of the puppeteers, it is actually eclipsed by the words. The beautiful, beautiful script by Guillermo Calderón is an adaptation of a short story by Mario Benedetti. The character’s conversation, because of their facial deformities, allows them to bypass small talk. Self gets dropped and the conversation becomes even more real, vibrant, touching and gets into your soul.
With the artistry of puppets and words an intimacy is created where all edifice and outside distractions drop away and every audience member, no matter where they are sitting in the house, is up on stage with the characters peering in over their shoulders watching their hearts open. At times the intimacy becomes so personal and deeply deeply touching so that I felt that maybe I shouldn’t be here watching this, it’s for them to experience, not for me. That’s probably why I didn’t take notes.
FEOS at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival
Produced by Teatro y Su Doble
Conceived and Directed by Aline Kuppenheim
Written by Guillermo Calderón, inspired by Mario Beneditti’s short story, “Noche de los Feos” (Night of the Ugly).
Puppeteers: Aline Kuppenheim, Ricardo Parraguez, Ignacio Mancilla, Catalina Bize, and Gabriela Diaz de Valdés
Voices: Francisco Melo, Roberto Farías, and Aline Kuppenheim
Scenic Design: Cristián Reyes
Lighting Design: José Luis Cifuentes
Costume Design: Muriel Parra and Felipe Criado