Visual artist and puppeteer Jessica Scott navigates through a satiric and fascinating new media “seascape” with a dysfunctional ship’s crew, albeit all women. Scott’s Ship of Fools uses nightmare structure, intentionally drawing from Book VI of Plato’s Republic (from whence its title came), Bosch imagery and other surreal allegories, depicting the fine line between heroines and madness.
Ship of Fools takes advantage of the intimate 20-seat theater space, specifically designed for puppet programs — HERE’s Dorothy B. Williams Theatre (a theater dedicated to Basil Twist’s grandmother). The participants are seated on a carousel-like platform, giving the feeling of boarding a sailing vessel that is about to depart. When the lights dim (Ayumu “Poe” Saegusa’s lighting design adds wonderful texture and atmosphere), the inner stage begins to revolve around various dark and quirky vignettes revealed on the surrounding outer stage. Jessica Scott conceived this innovative puppet play and admirably does quadruple duty as its co-director, puppet, costume and set designer.
Scott (with assists by co-director Eamonn Farrell) renders feminist storylines about madness with unique approaches that only puppetry can imaginatively illustrate. References from France’s famous all-female asylum Saltpetriere, to the Mary Laundry’s of old England, to important nineteenth century women writers, to Marilyn Monroe diary entries, and to contemporary celebrity speeches are just a few of the inspirations from which Scott draws. She is particularly fascinated by historical and contemporary artists and celebrities who have been constricted by society — a society which has depicted them as either “angels,” “monsters,” or “madwomen.” Farrell, an important co-collaborator, is largely responsible for the actual text and ingenious projection designs, integral to the nightmare structure.
However, the spectators are not on a seafaring joyride but on a ride of terror, enacted by and through puppetry, music performances (original music by Alex Klimovitsky aptly complements the terror adventures) and multi-media installations (Farrell). The experiences are intended to simultaneously haunt the playgoers, as well as depict historical and contemporary misogynistic horrors. Liz Davito provides live music and vocals. Kate Brehm, Davito, Jacob Graham, Takemi Kitamura, Sarah Lafferty, Georgie Tisdale and Jessica Weinstein are exceptional, as they contribute, not only as puppeteers, but additionally perform “scenery” and “physical” acting.
The text and dialog evolve and often change at each performance. With the 2016 presidential election, misogyny has become media fodder, and Scott continues to evolve her skits, as the current political “seascape” is rife to mine. Using satire, parody and dark humor, her Ship of Fools charts a course that is both visionary and timely.
Ship of Fools (through October 22)
Anonymous Ensemble (AnEn) and HERE’s Resident Artist and Dream Music Puppetry Program
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue — enter on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 at http://www.here.org
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission