A vibrant gem of the local scene for more than 20 years, puppeteer Patti Smithsonian will premiere the extended version of the hugely successful multimedia performance Take Me In My Tree Suit at the Manitou Art Theater on Nov. 18, 19 and 20.
The play features wildly vivid puppetry, masks, multimedia projections and fusion dance set to a Japanese soundscape -- a veritable artistic fusion for the senses.
Smithsonian says the genesis of the upcoming production began over a year ago at an art lecture in Denver. Bored with the speaker, she escaped to the lobby for diversion and met Denver-based performance artist and dancer Ricky Harada.
Born in southern Japan, Harada trained in Japanese performance arts and relocated to New York in 1985 to dance with MTV hip-hop dancers. Among other affinities, the two share a deep-seated love of the forest: Smithsonian grew up in the wooded area of northern New York and Harada grew up in Japan on his father's tree farm. Their early experiences of being surrounded by creatures of the forest left deep impressions on both artists and they are a dominant theme of the performance, which is set in a magical forest.
The three-act play is based on the Japanese theater tradition of Bunraku, that is, puppetry and storytelling, which dates to 17th-century Japan. The play follows the adventures of a young girl who escapes the unpleasantness of home, enters into a magical forest and befriends the incestuous brother-sister god-goddess combo of Susanowo and Amaterasu.
Known for the intricate puppetry, Bunraku traditionally uses three actors to control one puppet. Smithsonian has adapted that style so that each actor operates one puppet. This is not the only point of departure from rigid Bunraku tradition.
Chikamatsu Monzaemon, father of Bunraku theater and the greatest playwright in Japanese history, wrote high-minded themes about shinju, or love suicides. Similar to the Western Romeo and Juliet type of love affairs, the aim of the double suicide is to elevate the emotional connection into an eternal love. Such romanticism has continued to permeate Bunraku throughout the centuries, a concept that Smithsonian has a difficulty accepting and which she consciously avoids. In place of what she calls "unrealistic" romanticism, she instead employs the avant-garde theater techniques of butoh, also from Japan, to drive her story.
According to Smithsonian, butoh makes visible the unseen world, and the play strives to create the world of the young girl's magical forest adventure using a number of props and techniques that promise to make the show a Cirque du Soleil-type theater experience. Both she and Harada experiment with form and projected images, in addition to the puppetry and musical accompaniment. The aim is to relate the realism of the girl's fantastical experience with as much sensory depth as possible.
Also making an appearance will be third-grader Miette Hope who appeared in the original performance at Body Packaging 2003. While the youngster will not accompany Smithsonian and Harada when they take the show on the road, local theatergoers will be treated to the "spiritual purity" that Hope brings to the local stage.
Take Me In My Tree Suit promises to be one of Smithsonian's more vibrant creations, and one that will undoubtedly raise attention across the country.
-- Aaron Menza
Take Me In My Tree Suit
Patti Smithsonian, Ricky Harada and Miette Hope
Manitou Art Theater Venue 515, The BAC, 515 Manitou Ave.
Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 18-20 , 8 p.m.
Tickets $14 ; 685-1861 or 685-4729