Disfarmer: A review

Disfarmer, directed by Dan Hurlin, was performed at the ICA this past weekend.

I have to admit, I don't get as many opportunities as I'd like to see serious puppet theater aimed at adults, so forgive me if I have the giddy tone you'll find in the parents of a young child eating at a restaurant without a drive-thru for the first time in months.

Of course, I take puppetry aimed at children very seriously, but well done, full length adult puppet theater is a rare treat.

There is only really one character in this show, Mike Disfarmer, an eccentric Arkansas photographer who documented small town life in the 1940s (Learn more about the real Mike Disfarmer). He is brought to life as a bunraku-style puppet worker be several performers at once. Not only was the manipulation of the puppet Disfarmer clean and elegant, but the landscape in which he lived was brought to life as well. The sets lived on a series of tables on wheels which rolled together to form the interior or exterior of his house. In a few scenes, while Disfarmer paced alone with his thoughts, table after table rolled under him, creating his path through the town with each step he took.

If the show itself was the treat, then the cherry on top was the Saturday morning workshop with director Dan Hurlin and the show's five puppeteers.

Participants worked with simple jointed practice puppets (pictured on the right) to learn how to bring them to life through teamwork. In the tradition of bunraku puppets, one puppeteer manipulates the head and right hand, one works the left hand, and one walks the puppet. It quickly became clear how difficult it was for three people to coordinate their efforts for even simple actions like walking or lying down, much less the subtle and character defining movements of Disfarmer.

Watch this blog for upcoming performances and workshops.