Master at Stringing
Phillip Huber’s puppets play musical instruments, sing, cavort and
soar with humor in this low-tech, high-skill tour de force.
marionette work in the Oscar-nominated “Being John Malkovich”
was so stunning that even some professional animators were convinced
it had to have been done via computer imaging.
man actually pulling the strings, however, was professional
marionette master Phillip Huber, whose impressive talents are on
display in his solo show, “Suspended Animation,” at the Santa
Monica Puppet and Magic Center.
expect the film’s “angst-ridden marionette melodrama,” Huber
warns at the start. His aim, he says, is “simple, unabashed
entertainment.” While “simple” hardly describes Huber’s
artistry in manipulating the multiple strings that bring his
eccentric cloth-and-wood characters to life, “unabashed
entertainment” is right on the money.
the show’s beguiling vignettes, performed to a recorded
soundtrack, a violinist named Manuel
shows off his virtuoso talents; an elegant Pierrot conquers the high
wire, operatic diva
Pipes emotes and a shy skating panda executes all manner of smooth
moves to the music of Offenbach.
vignettes include a yodeler, a bubble-gum chewer, glamorous trapeze
artist Louisa and a Liza Minnelli look-alike.
who performs cabaret-style--he is onstage with his handcrafted
puppets, manipulating them in full view of the audience--is a subtle
part of the performance, silently admonishing or encouraging the
varied characters as needed with a shake of the head or a smile;
echoing their footwork with his own in dance sequences or deftly
using his leg or knee as bench, wall or leaning post.
one tour-de-force comical highlight, finicky old pianist Sir Cedric
dusts off his bench with his handkerchief, demands a glass of wine
to be placed just so and carefully lifts his fancy frock coat as he
sits down, all the while giving the audience sly glances over his
shoulder. When he finally starts playing, his renditions of
selections from Rossini are so vigorous that the piano fights back.
new monkey character, who is getting a tryout, was a bit wobbly in
his acrobatic routine at Saturday’s matinee; otherwise the show is
a marvel of keenly observed gestures and actions that are remarkably
true to life: When Huber’s pianist and violinist play their
instruments, the illusion is so vivid that their fingers seem to be
moving on keys and strings; when Pierrot painstakingly moves across
the high wire and Louisa does a flip over her trapeze, Huber cuts no
corners in set up or execution.
show, which ends with an audience question-and-answer session, is
accessible to children, but it is designed for adults who can
appreciate not only the charms of the puppet personalities but the
art and the artist.
“Suspended Animation,” Santa Monica Puppet and Magic Center,
1255 2nd St., Santa Monica, Wednesday-Friday at 7p.m. $35. (310)
656-0483. Running time: 90 minutes.
- Manuel D'Exterity
- (Steve Meltzer)
Warren K Wong
- Shirley U'Jest
- David Alexander