Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Head by Connor Hopkins, Trouble Puppet Theatre Company at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre, September 26 - October 12, 2013

ALT review

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

The Head Connor Hopkins Trouble Puppet Austin TX
(Photo: Chris Owens)
A miniature mechanical man emerges from a cloud of steam. A ruffled orange and yellow bird squawks obscenities and defecates in the eyepieces of a telescope. A lizard-like thing in wrought iron knee boots flies around the room mounting inanimate objects until someone threatens to get the hose.

These are all images in The Head, the latest production of puppet master Connor Hopkins’ Trouble Puppet Theatre Company, set inside a human being’s mind. The model of the mind represented by the set and the puppet characters inhabiting it could be anybody’s head, hence Everyman’s. TBut the creativity expressed by all of the blinking, smoking, rolling, heaving dream machines and fantastic puppet characters operating them offers an artistic model of Connor Hopkins’ mind and no other.

This is the latest full-length Trouble Puppet show since last May’s The Cruel Circus, and, if possible, it’s a step up in quality from that show. The puppeteers have refined their characters more, giving them sharper movements and character voices. Gone are the nearly uniform puppet hoppity-marches. Now, the inner demons leap out of the steaming vat of Everyman's limbic system, strutting in hip-hop dance steps. Plot expediencies have been weeded out, and the story action is crisp and purposeful. Altogether, the color and darkness and movement create such a medium of fantasy that one is pulled out of one’s own imaginative universe into that of The Head. The seductive appeal is definitely to the inner child, even though the entertainment is strictly for adults. We view this parade of images from our own limbic systems.
The Head Connor Hopkins Trouble Puppet Theatre Austin TX
(Photo: Chris Owens)
The story is a day in the life of U-Name-It. A person gets up, goes to work, struggles to stay out of a bar and away from a cigarette, and tries to deal with a somewhat casual relationship. Now, where did he leave that neurotransmitter support medication?

Just as in day-to-day life, the audience learns of the person’s inner struggles gradually, over a period of time. The Mechanic works on all of this from the mind’s control room in the head. He also deals with the inner demons that pop out of the limbic system, resorting to negotiation, violence, or trickery. The inner demons are his old adversaries, and we always have the feeling of a story in progress when The Mechanic struggles for control with them. Some of this head stuff is predictable, some of it is wildly surprising. Whatever, we know it's for high stakes because we see it around us in everyday reality.

The quotation attributed to Helen Keller comes to mind: “Life is an exciting adventure or it is nothing at all.“ Trouble Puppet is committed to the adventure. Perhaps all the excitement is why the look of the show seems accented with a kind of delicacy. Transforming beauty is found in the least likely places.

See The Head and share your favorite images with friends. Although I seldom make cross-medium references, with this show I recommend the “How-to” article on the making of puppets for The Head in the current Austin Chronicle edition (Vol. 33 No.6, Oct 4, 2013; p. 34), “Creature Construction” by Elizabeth Cobbe. The article gives an extra dimension to one’s appreciation of a standout Trouble Puppet production.

The Head rby Connor Hopkins uns until October 12, 2013 at Salvage Vanguard Theatre , 2803 Manor Rd. in east Austin. It runs 1 hr 20 minutes with no intermission; tickets are $10-$20, available through

brown paper tickets

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