Saturday, March 30, 2013

Adam Sultan by Steve Moore and Zeb L. West, Physical Plant Theare, March 28 - April 13, 2013

ALT review
Adam Sultan Steve Moore Zeb West Physical Plant Theatre Austin TX
(poster design: Jennymarie Jemison)

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

For the committed theatergoer, this was a long-awaited premiere. The blended live-action and puppet play previewed at the 2012 Fusebox Festival. The preview tantalized audiences with its potential for taking many different directions.

The premiere at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre on March 28 satisfied our aroused curiosity with a long sequence of wise story choices. They took us through some surprising ways yet never strayed from its emotional heart. Sure, it was about death, and innovative puppetry sustained all its moods and action; at the same time the production remained light, humor-filled and entertaining. 
 A demanding ticket buyer couldn’t ask for much more.

The play follows the character of Adam Sultan, played by the artist Adam Sultan, through to the far distant future of A.D. 2052 (not quite forty years from now). 

 Aged and infirm, Sultan sees and feels the loss of his artist friends all around him. Seemingly despairing, he collects mementos of their lives and seals those objects into glass jars. His bookshelf fills with the jars. Then one day a half-scale doppelganger puppet enters his apartment, drinks heavily and passes out. Sultan doesn’t know what to make of it; he never does know what to make of it. What’s sure is only that from this point forward puppets carry equal weight with human actors in conveying the story and its meanings.

Adam Sultan Steve Moore Zeb West Physical Plant Theatre Austin TX
(photo: Physical Plant Theatre)
The Physical Plant team of Steve Moore and Zeb L. West wrote and crafted the show. In addition to makiing unerring choices in a mature story revolving around death, they incorporated advanced concepts of new puppetry that took Adam Sultan to the edge of theatre and puppetry. 

Completely black-garbed puppeteers were visible onstage. In conventional theatre, anyone wearing black is a technician and therefore invisible in the sense of operating the play and not figuring in the scripted action; technicians are merely making it happen.

The Adam Sultan puppeteers pushed this envelope or bent this frame in several ways. First and most fundamentally, the puppeteers manipulated and changed the human actors throughout the play; they did so subtly and tellingly when they reshaped the postures and stances of the living to reflect advancing age, as for example in the touching moment when they placed wedding rings on the fingers of the lead characters. In addition, the puppeteers removed their black headgear to speak narrative voice-overs at a microphone stand at stage left. With this, the audience no longer held the puppeteers comfortably framed in invisibility as helpers for the story. Attention, audience: they might do other things, so be ready.

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