Come for the Puppets, Stay for the Bread: SHATTERER OF WORLDS

The Shatterer of Worlds

scene from The Shatterer of Worlds; photo credit: Mark Dannenhauer

Presented by Bread and Puppet Theatre
Directed by Peter Schumann

January 23 – February 2, 2014
Boston Center for the Arts
529 Tremont St
Boston, MA
Bread and Puppet on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Boston) There aren’t many opportunities in your modern New England life to actually be a part of something that has deep, continuous, traditional roots.  I don’t count Civil War Reenacting.[1]  Experiencing Bread and Puppet is an honest-to-goodness moment of oneness with theatre history, even if you don’t quite understand what’s going on in the performance.

In the early 1960s, German emigrant Peter Schumann (baker, sculptor, dancer, and philosopher…) decided to combine all of his talents and presented puppet shows with a political bent to New York City’s Lower East Side.  Schumann and his coterie served his own home-baked sourdough bread to audiences who would digest the sustenance while digesting the messages of the work.  To Schumann, bread and art together symbolize the concrete function of art when practiced in symbiosis with day-to-day life.  In other words: you can have your art and eat it too.

The Bread and Puppet signature style (giant papier-mâché with rounded features enacting grossly political pieces) is still hard at work.  Cyclorama is the perfect home for this roving piece; the vast dark of the unknown building cloaks the piece’s next segment in waves of blackness.  The stone floor is rugged enough to serve the show’s post-nuclear aesthetic, and uncomfortable enough to keep you on your toes.

The show’s largest draw is its soundscape.  Bread and Puppet creates machinery both complex and simple to bring not-quite-music to your ears.  While the entire piece was certainly not my cup of tea, I was happy to bear witness to the gadgeteering which presented such noise-making devices as “The One Percent Clock” and the human glockenspiel.  Closing your eyes and listening, in this case, is almost as good as seeing.

Again, the space served the piece. Sounds echoed and reverberated from near and far, surrounding the audience and creating literal depth. Since it’s a roving piece, footfalls (both of the performers and the observers) added to melodious tones. At Bread and Puppet, you’re not just watching the show; you’re part of it.

But before I close this review, I should admit something.  If I must see political theatre (and I am definitely not a fan of it), I would prefer a piece’s message to be blatant.  Please don’t beat me up-side the head (*cough* Rajiv Joseph *cough*), but don’t leave me guessing.  The last thing I want to do is have to try and decipher your agenda from amidst a sea of cacophonous images, one clambering on top of the other.  Unfortunately for me, Shatterer of Worlds was a little too obtuse to be completely enjoyable.  I left wondering what had just happened, and knowing I had seen some cool objects, but not really understanding why.

I know there are, however, people who do enjoy that sort of thing.  If you simply go gaga over deconstructing things like “Lobster Phone”, you’ll adore this piece.  And even if you have never seen “performance art” before, I think this is a friendly introduction.  If nothing else, you can look forward to Schumann’s homemade bread (served, as is tradition, after every performance by Schumann himself).


[1] While a valid life choice and a delightful hobby, CWR is by its nature something that is contrived to reinterpret an event which no one alive today actually took part in.  Therefore, while it certain has deep traditional roots, it doesn’t qualify as a ritualized activity which has retained roots in anything original.

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