By Tulis McCall

When I was in college at the University of Connecticut, I had the good fortune to be recruited by Frank Ballard to be in a puppetry production of Carnival of The Animals and Petrouchka.

Because of that I was also recruited to be part of the production team at the International Puppetry Convention.

Life changing.

Let me tell you something about puppetry – it is magic.  It is a magic that is often superior to acting because a puppeteer imbues an object with life.  So it is life times two.  No fooling.  This is not pretend.  This is magic.

The Handspring Puppet Company has adapted J.M. Coetzee’s novel “The Life & Times of Michael K” into a lyrical triumph of a production. This is the story of a man names Michael who is beset upon by life.  Michael is born with a hare lip that made him the center of ridicule and concern.  Because his mouth never quite closed it was difficult for him to eat and speak.  He was shunted off to specialty institutions where he learned to stay hidden and quiet.  He eventually ended up in the Departmenet of Parks and Gardens in Cape Town, which is where someone found him to tell him that his mother is dying.

Although they are pretty much estranged, Michael goes home where his mother tells him she wants to return to her farm in Prince Albert.  It is an impossible task as they have no permits or tickets.  Nonetheless, Michael takes it on.

This is what he does in life.  While life beats him about the head he puts one foot in front of the other and carries on.  When his mother dies, he takes her ashes and proceeds on his journey.  When he is threatened by soldiers in the war or people who would take advantage of him he withdraws over and over again, learning about himself as a solo human on this planet.  Finding solace in nature and miracles wherever he focuses.

Eventually he returns to the farm and his life melts away leaving only the container of the man.

We are carried along on this journey of what we might consider an insignificant man because of the story telling of Coetzee and by the extraordinary tenderness and specificity of these puppeteers.  They unfold Michael into existence, and when his time is up they return him whence he came.  In between these two milestones Michael floats through life like a person bound to earth by the slenderest of threads.

Like I said – it is magic.

Which begs the question of why the puppets were not part of the curtain call? It was to them that we were most attached.  Handspring missed an opportunity here by denying us a proper thank you and farewell.  Such an easy adjustment to make!  Even the ushers were baffled by this omission.  Hope they can re-consider.

The Life & Times of Michael K – A Baxter Theatre Centre / Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus Production in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company.

The creative team includes Lara Foot (adaptor, writer, director), Handspring Puppet Company (adaptors, puppet directors, designers and makers), Patrick Curtis (set design),Kyle Shepherd(original music composition), Joshua Cutts(lighting design), Fiona McPherson and Barrett de Kock (directors of photography and film), Yoav Dagan (videography and editing), Kirsti Cumming(projection design), Phyllis Midlane(costume design), and Simon Kohler(sound design).

The cast comprises nine celebrated South African performers led by the alchemical puppet master Craig Leowith puppeteers Roshina Ratnamand Markus Schabbingand actors Sandra Prinsloo, Andrew Buckland/ Wessel Pretorius, Faniswa Yisa, Carlo Daniels, Billy Langa, and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe
Through December 23 at St. Ann’s Warehouse Tickets HERE