Chicago Theater Review: THE TABLE (Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 18, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A PUPPET IN THE WILDERNESS

In The Table, a curious creation now on its first U.S. tour, three members of the U.K.’s Blind Summit puppet theater depict a garrulous Bunraku-style hand puppet, a vibrant invention who impersonates no less than the 120-year-old Moses on his dying day on the plains of Moab. The puppet, a combination of cardboard, wood and fabric, achieves a complete curmudgeonly life under the deft ministrations of three enablers: Nick Barnes provides the prophet’s gruff growl and salty talk and also manipulates his upper torso, Sean Garratt mostly handles his back and right arm, and, stooping for most of the show, Irene Stratieva moves his busy feet. (It gives a new meaning to “assisted living.”)

Scene from Blind Summit's THE TABLE

Commissioned by the Jewish Community Centre in London, the result is a strange amalgam—a 65-minute crash course in puppetry and assorted ruminations over Moses’ mission (a long exile in the desert) and whether it distracts from God’s purported rescue of the Israelites from Egypt.

Scene from Blind Summit's THE TABLEBlind Summit’s irascible Moses is a lovable coot who is not above shaking his ancient booty at the crowd. He proudly introduces us to his table (a long white one as ordinary as they come), with its unseen garden. He gamely shows us how he walks around it to reach his favorite view. Moses promises an evening of “epic Biblical puppetry,” then gets distracted into describing core rules of puppetry—establishing focus so the audience watches the puppet and not the dark-clad puppeteers and avoiding “fixed position” where the legs slide instead of step. When Sean suddenly leaves to take a bathroom break (that somehow requires a ladder), an audience member is invited onstage to become Moses’ “right hand man.”

Scene from Blind Summit's THE TABLEMoses cavorts about, at one time leaving the table to explore the floor, always returning to theme of Moses and why God, who he also depicts, buried him in an unmarked grave. No answers arrive. The questions, it seems, suffice.

It’s comical and charming throughout, however close it comes to outstaying its welcome. But the uneven mix of self-conscious puppetry and religious commentary doesn’t quite gel. It’s as if Blind Summit seems afraid that we’ll get tired of the inside jokes, then switches to theology. This failure to commit to a consistent theme takes its toll.

Scene from Blind Summit's THE TABLEphotos by Lorna Palmer

The Table
Blind Summit
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
scheduled to end on October 27, 2013
for tickets call 312-595-5600
or visit www.chicagoshakes.com

for info on other Chicago Theater, visit
http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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