Henson Puppet Festival

September 13, 2000

Hugo Suarez uses body parts as if it were a whole man in Short Stories.
Photo courtesy Hugo & Ines

Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater
Handshadows by Prasanna Rao

Short Stories by Teatro Hugo & Ines

The Public Theater
New York, New York

September 13?18, 2000

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

Dancers know that each part of the body has its own expressiveness. This special knowledge can be shared by puppet masters who use their own bodies rather than wooden figures to create characters. Teatro Hugo & Ines, a duo from Peru, and Prasanna Rao, a master from India, brought their fantasies to life with precise and expressive use of their physical selves. And in doing so, they showed us illusion and reality simultaneously.

With the help of a few props and raggedy shirts, Hugo Suarez and Ines Pasic make wacky and magical use of body parts. It’s fun to imagine them, a married couple, experimenting together, exposing their intimate physical secrets to each other. He is brash, goofy; she is sensual, concerned. Most of the “short stories” are done solo; occasionally they do a scene together. Hugo’s knee becomes the bald head of a defiant person, sometimes looking up at Hugo’s real face to question him. In another episode, with upper face hooded, he inserts a set of fake bulging eyes in his mouth. Although we know they’re fake, the high-strung character that results, sobbing extravagantly at what he reads in the newspaper, is completely convincing. Ines flirts with a tall-hatted man who wraps his arm around her and gets fresh. But there is no one there, just emptiness under the hat, and we can see that his aggressive arm is really her own in the sleeve of a man’s coat. Infusing her facial expression and disassociated arm with two different characters is worthy of the complex coordination required by a Trisha Brown or Twyla Tharp dancer.

Accompanied by the Beatles song “Yesterday,” Ines uses both hands to create a sad guy remembering a lost love. In a stunning and mysterious split second, one hand metamorphoses into a tiny strutting woman, with knuckles as breasts?the loved one he lost yesterday. (Her hands are so dexterous that it is not surprising to learn in the program notes that she is a former pianist.)

In a final scene, Ines sits on the floor. One hand becomes the bottom half of a toddler while the other is the bonneted upper body of that toddler. They scamper across the giant human, looking for their other halves. It goes beyond cute to heart wrenching, poignant, fantastical.

The simplest of children’s games becomes an art form in the hands of Prasanna Rao. When you look at his hands under a bright light, you see a jumble of stick-like projections, fingers as articulate as if playing a stringed instrument. When you look at the screen you see the silhouette of an animal?dog, wolf, rabbit?or a person. The light source illuminates the transformation from abstract jumble to narrative figures. In this fashion, Rao takes us through an impressive gallery of personalities. “John F. Kennedy with special hair style” is a hit. It’s amazing what he can do by shifting the angle of a single knuckle. His quiet humming and chuckling help define the characters. My favorite was a soaring bird, its wings flapping gracefully high in the sky.

This was the most enchanting evening I have spent in a theater in a long time.