The Austin Chronicle


Glass Half Full Theatre employs puppets to show us a series of visions of the Earth transformed by climate change

Reviewed by Stacy Alexander Smith, May 30, 2014, Arts

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 512/474-7886
Through June 7
Running time: 1 hr., 5 min.

Imagine a rebellious French teenager, brooding in her bedroom while listening to Hank Williams. Such a scene seems to capture certain moments in this beautiful art exhibit sprung to life, Once There Were Six Seasons, the latest from Glass Half Full Theatre. Although the company might well be called Glass Half Empty this go-round, for its pessimistic view of life on Earth in the year 2048 is sobering, to say the least. Yet is it pessimism or merely logical fatalism to suggest that if we keep going on about our business in the usual ways vis-à-vis ravaging the planet ... we're screwed? These guys aren't subtle in delivering their message.

Episodic, Six Seasons is a series of future visions, separated by an ongoing conversation between an offstage consumer in need of an SVX chip and the customer service agent she begs to help her. Due to an apparent shortage – and, it seems, in an attempt to delay and distract her – he brings up several scenes in her "info stream." Among the settings are the jungles of Malawi, a canal in Venice, and a vibrant Texas farm turned desolate drill site. The references to geographic "zones" and lines like "It's important that no one opt out" put viewers in familiar territory as these sorts of dehumanizing elements often feature prominently in science fiction.

Audience members who come to the theatre expecting a conventional experience with lots of dramatic tension and a linear story may walk away scratching their heads. However, those in attendance on the night I was there were unwavering in their passion for the material. Long meditations punctuated by foreign languages? No problem.

Undoubtedly, they were responding to the several gorgeous, movable set-pieces courtesy of Artistic Director Caroline Reck, along with guest artists Amanda Maddock and Taylor Harrison. From tropical paradise to industrial wasteland, these diverse worlds are inhabited by tiny puppets (human, avian, bovine, and otherwise). The deliciously intoxicating soundscapes, created by K. Eliot Haynes of Trouble Puppet fame, are of a similar, sky-aimed caliber.

This week, I made the decision to move to the north side of the river for the first time in 17 years, and an old friend's spouse announced plans to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Although embracing reality in its various mutations is a sign of strength, sometimes it is only natural for change to rock you to your core. When one character in this show laments that "I just want things to go on as they are," another remarks that "perhaps this is the one wish that unites all the zones." Nerve struck. Universal truth: Change is disorienting. In this case, climate change – both literally and figuratively – will take your breath away.

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