Fred Astaire croons Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek in the background, as God and his assistant enter the stage:
“Heaven, I’m in heaven ….
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we’re out dancing cheek to cheek.”
Kevin Augustine and Edward Einhorn co-wrote as well as co-directed and acted in this surreal, engaging puppet play. The playwrights tackle several suppositions: that God has dementia and that his gradual loss of faculties is a result of murdering his “significant other” — the Great Mother. God acknowledges that it was his narcissism, jealously and wanting complete power and dominion over heaven and earth that compelled him to kill her. God admits that he could not bear ruling heaven as equals, and his lust for omnipotence led to his egregious action and her demise. The penalty he pays is being alone for eternity in a bleak paradise and acknowledges that he has created his own hell: “She sheds blood, the mother, by giving life; where I shed blood by … taking life away …. But now I know. Now I know.” When it dawns on him what his punishment truly means, it is too late. Grotesque imagery vies for equal time with macabre comedic innuendos and Borsch Belt-style humor in this dark, quirky tragedy.
Music is an essential component of The God Projekt. Sound designer Mark Bruckner, with substantial input by Augustine, sets the tone, not only at the outset, but throughout. Songs such as Tumbling Tumbleweeds by Sons of the Pioneers (“see them tumbling down, pledging their love to the ground ….”) to Remember Me by Al Bowlys (“remember me, just keep me in your memory ….”), to the Latin chant, Circumdederunt Me Dolores Mortis (“the sorrows of death have encompassed me ….”), to Gerald Adams”s Daisy Bell (“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do, I’m half crazy all for the love of you ….“), to Bobby Darin’s Beyond The Sea (“Somewhere beyond the sea, she’s there watching for me ….”) take on particular weight and meaning as the consequences of God’s actions unfold.
Each of the songs’ lyrics, as well as their melodies, make for effective story transitions. While the authors take imaginative risks that are to be commended, the first act is much too complicated, and the plot takes a while to digest. The second act is clearer and more germane to God’s “paying the price for his dastardly deeds” and tackling the tasks at hand in recompense for his wrongdoings.
The overarching conceit is that God is destined to forget each time he gets a click of recognition as to what’s what. He is in a “time warp dance” where past and present are on the same space-time continuum. Yet, he desperately tries over and over again to make the world right and the Great Mother whole again.
Augustine does an admirable job vacillating between a decrepit old man and a George Burns-type at his shtich-iest. Oh, God calls out, not as a film reference, but as a comic relief allusion from a gruesome cacophony. Strikingly real face make-up, inventive lighting (Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew ) and expert costuming (Ciera Wells-Jones) sustain the image of Augustine’s God mask, even when he engages with the audience up close. Tom Lee’s set design further enhances the fairy tale horror of the show, and transforms La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre into an eerie apocalyptic Elysium.
Puppeteers Joseph Garner and Emily Marsh tenderly manipulate gigantic body parts (a massive arm and leg) — puppet fabrications — so that they appear human and not just fibrous tissue and distorted body parts. As God and the puppeteers try to re-animate the Great Mother, we enter McDonagh-land; armed and dangerous takes on special import. Whatever God tries, becomes a time loop of misery, anguish, and defeat. Creating life and healing the sick are now beyond his capabilities.
Since 1997, the Lone Wolf Tribe has been “fusing history, philosophy and life-sized puppetry into contemporary narratives with a mission to investigate, challenge and spellbind.” With The God Projekt, the theater company skillfully carries on this venerable tradition by carefully examining the meaning behind God The Father and God the Mother. With this play, they continue to create an effective forum for debate through puppet storytelling as to what “was” the role of The Great Mother in religious and classical mythology.
The God Projekt (through October 6, 2016)
2016 LaMama Puppet Series
Lone Wolf Tribe in association with Untitled Theater Company No 61
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 E. 4th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-430-5374 or visit http://www.lamama.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission