By Phillip Brandes
Theater critics must endure their share of wooden performances, but in the case of "Suspended Animation" the prospect is excusable. The show celebrates puppeteer Phillip Huber's extraordinary level of artistry in crafting and manning his original marionette creations.
Huber's work has been featured on Broadway, television and film (he) pulled the strings for John Cusack's puppet shows in "Being John Malkovich"), and he brings an unfailingly entertaining array of his favorite characters to the intimate confines of the Santa Monica Puppet and Magic Center.
Though billed as a show for adult audiences, Huber's family-friendly solo performance contains nothing like "Malkovich's" risqué interludes. Rather, the "adult" focus is the sheer sophistication in Huber's innocuous, good-natured and captivating displays of dexterity, each involving a different marionette performing a musical number.
Scenes feature circus performers (a trapeze artist, an acrobatic monkey and a tightrope-treading mime), musicians (an 18th century pianist, a gypsy violinist), celebrities (George M. Cohan, Liza Minnelli and Nell Carter) and assorted fanciful characters such as a square-dancing scarecrow who splits into independent segments and reattaches in perfect time to the music.
With each puppet sporting its own special bars and toggle-pieces to control individual movements, the realistic detail is astonishing--from the delicate fingering of the violinist to the lifelike antics of Huber's most complex creation, a playful pooch requiring 22 strings. But, as Huber cautions in his friendly, informative post-show discussion, "It's not the number of strings you have--it's how you use them."
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