If you think puppets are only for children, think again: Filled with mystery, murder and oozing blood, Tears of Joy Theatre’s adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is coming to PSU’s Lincoln Studio Theatre just in time for Halloween.
A terrifying puppet whispers sweet nothings into and unidentified man’s ear.
While this show is based on a short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, the original was written mostly as a first-person inner monologue. David Treptow has adapted the story for a full 75-minute production, complete with dialogue and characters not found in the original text.
Much like the short story, this production does not shy away from depicting violence, which may surprise for many first-time puppet theater viewers. When most people think of puppets they think of “Sesame Street or the Muppets,” said Tears of Joy Theatre Managing Director Neal Spinler. This production is nothing like those childhood shows.
If you’re expecting a light-hearted show with a clear message, you might want to look elsewhere.
The message of the production is: “Don’t kill people; don’t get caught,” Spinler said, half-jokingly. Tears of Joy Theatre Artistic Director Nancy Aldrich, who directs The Tell-Tale Heart, brought this show with her from a previous company and has sought to put on more adult-oriented puppet performances.
For many audience members, this may be the first time seeing a professional puppet performance aimed at adults. So what can an attendee expect?
“Puppetry is an old, old form of this presentational art, and it’s a grand tradition basically in everywhere but America,” Jon Plueard, a 2010 PSU Theater Arts alum and Tears of Joy actor, said. “We look at puppets as [if] they belong to children, but puppets are allowed to make political commentary. Puppets are allowed to kind of do things that human actors…aren’t really allowed to.”
Plueard finds that there are advantages to this type of puppetry.
“What happens with theater theater…is you have live actors in front of fake scenery, and so the true synthesis of [the] moment can’t happen because the audience will always know those people aren’t real, the situation is made up,” Plueard said. “What happens with puppetry is both things are constructed so the synthesis that occurs is that, yes, the set is unreal, but the people are unreal as well…it allows the message to travel.”
Audience members can also expect a mix of various performance styles. Part of both Portland State Theater Arts and Tears of Joy Theatre’s mission is to bring various cultural influences to the works presented.
“We focus heavily on stories from various cultures, and each culture, most cultures actually, have their own style of puppetry in one way or another,” Spinler said. “We try to incorporate those styles into that show as much as possible.”
This show in particular mixes human and puppet performance while incorporating the Japanese style of puppetry called Bunraku.
Bunraku puppets are operated by three puppeteers who move all of the parts of the puppet’s body and perform the voice of the puppet.
Don’t start thinking that these puppets are small, though.
“They are life-size puppets,” Spinler said. “In fact, one of them is probably three times the size [of a normal puppet]. It’s a very large puppet.”
Such oversized puppets in a small, intimate theater such as Lincoln’s studio ensures that every seat will be close to the action and heighten the drama of the setting.
Plueard, one of the operators of the “Old Man” puppet, appreciates the wide range of communication available to the puppeteer.
“We, the puppeteers, have developed a form of communication that is nonverbal,” Plueard said.
The caretaker in the play is played by a live actor who is intent on maintaining his own sanity but nevertheless descends into madness and, eventually, murder. This murder, however, is not just any kind of blasé onstage death. Expect a lot of lost body parts and gore.
Don’t want to pay a fortune to attend? You’re in luck: There is a special PSU student night Thursday, Oct. 25, with $5 tickets available with student ID.
Please note that there is a parental advisory requirement for those bringing children.