A world famous puppetry company, singlehandedly responsible for the National Theatre’s currently positive balance sheet. The poetry of one of Britain’s most famous 20th century writers. Put them together, and you’d get something magical, like Cats.
Or maybe not.
Two days after seeing Handspring Puppet’s Crow, I amazed that no one saw fit to stop this train wreck. There are some puppets, if this is what you came for. I recall a moment of naturalistic beauty as one first lifted its shiny black head to look upon the world. And there is some interesting poetry that, early on, gave hope that the evening might soar.
However, it’s the eye-burningly bad modern dance that drags the show down. The movement is not so much uninteresting as actively ugly, only tangentially related to the spoken word (which is actually in short supply). Watching the actors shuffling around on the floor, disassembling puppets, smearing grease on each other, feigning amorous interest, and generally giving their best, I feel sure their sincerity meant they had yet to figure out they were involved in a monsterpiece.
The crow puppets actually made it all worse. Was the emotional climax of the play really the moment when the pale penis of a man-sized crow creature becme erect? It’s an image that is burned in my mind, to be sure, in part because it marked the point of when I realized the evening was lost. As the crow chased a long haired actress lustily around the stage, finally disappearing into a cavern with her, I wondered if it could get any worse. Then the dome at the center of the stage cracked, and a giant crow beak poked out. The night tipped into pure absurdity for me, as I relived the key moment of an amateur production of HP Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House,” in which all of the evil of a small town is made clear by the grand reveal of an ELBOW of some giant monster, rather unconvincingly rendered in carved foam. (Read the full text here and imagine the moment.) Crow had crossed into parody, and I let myself giggle away the rest of the evening.
It’s amazing how a really bad show can make one hour and ten minutes seem like an eternity, but I knew it had to end soon enough; many of the other audience members were unable to wait even that long, however. We walked out in silence. Will it be revived? I think: nevermore.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, June 19th, 2012. Crow continues through July 7th. If it helps, imagine this show at the performance given my the gang of bankrobbers to the old ladies’ art society in The Ladykillers. It kind of works!)