Nasty, Brutish, and Short?
So what do those words
have to do with expertly animated
bits of wood & cloth & paper & wire?
"There's the matter-of-fact acceptance of violence –
horrific violence – and how it just rolls off the characters,
because it’s just a part of life for them," says Connor Hopkins,
working on the set for the production of Riddley Walker
that he's directing for Trouble Puppet Theater Company.
"Was it Hobbes," asks Hopkins, "who described life as
'Nasty, brutish, and short'? That’s what it’s like for
Riddley and his people."
Riddley and his people.
They're from a postapocalyptic world of humanity
struggling from the depths of destruction –
a world of violence, visions, and traveling puppet shows,
where wild dogs run rampant and ancient engines
hold the secret to salvation or further despair.
British author Russell Hoban wrote about that world in his acclaimed 1980 novel –
called, yes, Riddley Walker – and now Hopkins & company, using the amazing sort
of puppetry that lent such power and darkness to their version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle,
are bringing that world to the stage.
"There’s a lot of activity in the first half of the book," says Hopkins,
"and a lot of worldbuilding, where you’re finding out about Riddley and his people,
what their culture is, what their belief system is, and how their social order functions ...
But in the second half, there’s a whole lot of Riddley walking by night,
from town to town around Inland, and just thinking ...
"So I’ve been figuring out how to restructure it and take a lot of the second half’s stories,
and the ideas that get ruminated upon, and transpose that into the earlier part of the book –
so we can spread the action throughout."
And this action is embodied by puppets.
For the people, of course – and the dogs?
"We're making dog puppets," says Hopkins, "a pack of wild dogs that can run around
and separate into two groups. Some of those dogs are actual characters in the book –
obviously not speaking, but they have distinct personalities and perform different functions."
And, in fact, we hear that ... some of these puppets, the people puppets,
perform smaller puppet shows of their own?
"Yeah, that's one of the big things," says Hopkins, nodding.
"It's actually turning into a theme with us ~ having puppet shows within puppet shows."
And these shows within the main show feature an old favorite: Mr. Punch,
as depicted to great effect in Hoban's complex tale.
"When Mr. Punch comes back into the world," says Hopkins,
"that’s anarchy and comedy re-emerging into this world that doesn’t have them
or even know what they are. That’s what Mr. Punch does: He makes trouble."
You could do much worse for yourself, friend, than making your way to
Salvage Vanguard Theater this weekend and seeing what strange & darkling wonders
the folks of Trouble Puppet have wrought for your entertainment.