Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Executive Order 9066": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

Here is something to think about. When you hear a song in your own language, the music gives you the emotion while the words tell the story. But if you hear the same song in a language you don't understand, it's all emotion. Your brain has to figure things out using a different set of cues.

Same thing with live theater. The sets and lighting and music give you the emotional cues and the dialog and acting tell the story. But what if there is no dialog? What if the actors are pieces of cloth, chopsticks and tin cans? In the world of Liebe Wetzel's Lunatique Fantastique, where puppeteers clad entirely in black maneuver found objects across a darkened table on the small stage, there is nothing to go on but emotion. Her "Executive Order 9066," which is the story of one Japanese-American family uprooted during World War II and sent to a relocation camp in Topaz, Utah, is a masterpiece of pure theater magic.

Not one word is spoken during the one hour performance and none are needed. The puppeteers' art is brought to a high level again and again, especially with the representation of President Roosevelt, the prison guard and, most of all, the heartbroken Japanese-American Mom.

How is Mom represented? With an upside-down teakettle for a head, a piece of cloth for a kimono and, at times, chopsticks for arms. Her teakettle is pewter-colored. How do we know her pre-war friend is not Japanese? Their teapot heads are different colors: the friend's is white, and her "dress" cloth suggests a gingham fabric. These little clues force us to pay attention, and when we do we discover a gripping story emerging from the silent world.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Executive Order 9066" Three Stars with Two Bangles of Excellence. Since the cast is hidden it is impossible to single anyone out, but Animators Jen Colasuonno, Sheila Devitt, Anna Fitzgerald, Susie Gaskill, Benjamin Turner and Patricia Tyler made this boy cry. That's saying something, especially on a Saturday afternoon at 1PM.

One BANGLE of Excellence is for F.D.R. -- we can't remember exactly now they managed to convey the wheel chair but the cigar, we think, was a pen. The other BANGLE is for the bleak landscape of the internment camp, suggested by sand spread across a sheet of wrapping paper, with tin cans on the end for the camp boundaries. Other tin cans conveyed the floodlights from guard towers. The battle scene was also excellent: The German soldier's tea cup head was, of course, black. What a marvelous show.

"Executive Order 9066"
The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco

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