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Moses the puppet puts it all out on ‘The Table’

Moses puppet is star 'The Table' thanks no small measure his three expert puppeteers.

Moses the puppet is the star of "The Table," thanks in no small measure to his three expert puppeteers.

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‘The Table’

Highly recommended

When: Through Oct. 27

Where: Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespseare Theater Upstairs, 600 E. Grand, on Navy Pier

Tickets : $20-$35

Info: (312) 595-5600;
www.chicagoshakes.com

Run time: 1 hour and 10
minutes, with no intermission

Updated: November 24, 2013 6:27AM



No doubt about it: Blind Summit Theatre’s “The Table” is one of the more astonishing 70 minutes of theater, puppetry, whimsy, mischief, eye-hand-brain coordination and total brilliance to be exported from London in recent years.

The whole exhilarating, giddy experience, which plays through Oct. 27 in the intimate Upstairs space at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (part of the invaluable World’s Stage series), can be summed up in countless ways.

A billboard might proclaim: See Moses hammer out the stone tablets, lead his people out of the desert and every once in a while break into zero gravity mode, or a moonwalk-style dance worthy of Michael Jackson. Hear this “really old Jew” tell jokes — but more crucially, begin to realize the ultimate joke is on him. Listen in on the puppet’s conversation with God. Be reminded of the inevitability of mortality. Learn every trick-of-the-trade you need to know about acting and puppetry technique in one whip-smart lesson. And oh, yes, be astonished and delighted, and laugh out loud.

While the center of attention here is a puppet with an angular cardboard head, the scrawniest cloth legs and arms, and a tiny belly that, when set in motion, suggests the sex urge is still alive and well, Moses is not alone. Three fully visible puppeteers of exceptional wit and physical agility visibly manipulate his every move in a highly choreographed, yet playfully anarchic, at moments wildly improvisatory style that draws loosely on the Japanese bunraku tradition.

In this particular performance, Mark Down is the marvelously droll voice and controlling persona of the show, who fittingly works Moses’ head and left hand; Sean Garratt, winningly prone to laughing fits, is the younger, bearded, slightly daft fellow who works the puppet’s right hand and rear end; and Irena Stratieva, an impish beauty with dancing eyes and graceful moves, is the percussionist in this crazy band of three-plus-one, moving Moses’ little feet (shod in doll-size black shoes), and working in such a hunched position one hopes her contract promises regular massage therapy sessions.

Devised and directed by a Blind Summit team of seven (including Down, who gets the directing credit), it is sometimes difficult to sense just how much of “The Table” changes from performance to performance. On the night I caught the show, a brief segment of audience participation resulted in the loss of Moses’ right hand. Maybe it was planned; maybe it was spontaneous. Either way, all the performers, including the puppet, flew with it in this show that is, at its core, a perfect little explosion of existential euphoria.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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