I’ll be honest: I’m not sure that I “got” Theatre Network’s presentation of Famous Puppet Death Scenes by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. As the title implies, Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a live montage of 22 of the greatest death scenes in puppet history. The show’s curator, Nathanial Tweak (himself a puppet), appears intermittently throughout the show, providing commentary on death (of course), but more so on life: the shortness of it, the philosophy of carpe diem, and the importance of spending time doing the things you love with the people you love.
People connect to puppets on a different level than they do human actors, but it’s hard to describe how. Something about a puppet’s rag-tag assortment of materials and exaggerated features disarm us, make us laugh, and circumvent the barriers we’ve put up against discussing certain topics, so we’re more comfortable with some of those “taboo” topics being brought up in a puppet show than we are with seeing them in a show with human actors.
One of those topics is, of course, death. Many people in my life are terrified of themselves or their loved ones dying, and with our aging population conversations around death and end of life are more common. Through its montage of rapid-fire death after death after death, Famous Puppet Death Scenes treats death with both humour and tact, and perhaps helps us ease into the ability to talk about death a bit more.
While Famous Puppet Death Scenes was performed with artistry in everything from the puppeteering to the physical comedy to the costumes and sets, I didn’t connect with the performance. The non-narrative structure of the show worked for me and created humour in repetition and interesting juxtapositions between portrayals of certain death and a more abstract concept of death, however, the lack of dialogue throughout the scenes made if difficult for me to connect with the show on a deeper level. While the lack of dialogue kept the characters and situations generic enough that I was able to laugh at some situations that are actually quite serious, it also made it hard for me to fully engage with the serious messages and humanity within the performance. The intermittent philosophizing by Nathanial Tweak does give structure and guidance, but I found it difficult to mentally switch from absorbing the mostly non-verbal scenes to interpreting Nathanial’s complex vocabulary and verbose speeches. So, while I understand the points Nathanial makes about life and death at the top of the performance, it didn’t resonate as much with me as previous performances dealing with the same subject matter have.
PS – Listen to the What It Is Podcast’s episode 64 for an interview Famous Puppet Death Scenes’ performers from The Old Trout Puppet Workshop.