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Message from Macondo

Saugerties hosts Arm-of-the-Sea Theater’s latest Esopus Creek Puppet Suite tackling the Gulf oil spill disaster this weekend

by Frances Marion Platt
August 12, 2010 11:08 AM | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Symbols and archetypes that resonate with people on one continent often recur in the mythos of people on another thousands of miles away. The Egyptians, the Chinese and the Mayas all depicted winged serpents as messengers of the gods bearing inspiration to us mortals. Tales of tricksters in animal form and brownielike “little people” and perilous magical gifts have been found over most of the globe throughout the ages. Countless heroes and heroines, gods, goddesses and musicians have made forays into the Underworld (with varying success) to bring back something or someone lost or stolen. Think of all the stories, from the Bible to Greek tragedy to today’s Harry Potter saga, in which a child is born under a prophecy to overthrow a ruler, rescued from the ruler’s attempts to eliminate him and fostered in ignorance of his true destiny, only to fulfill it in due time. And rulers (or their surrogates) must often be sacrificed just to make sure that the crops will grow.

These connections appear too frequently to be merely coincidental, but I don’t think that they can always be explained by contacts by intrepid seafarers millennia ago – nor by selective divine intervention. I’m more inclined to believe that Carl Jung was on the right track: This stuff just burbles up out of our Unconscious because we’re all human. We’re hard-wired to vibrate inside like a tuning fork in response to certain kinds of themes and images. Call it psychology or call it magic; whatever it is, it just works.

Artists seem to “get” this process more than the rest of us. And the ones who are most successful – not necessarily in a business sense, but in terms of being able to stir their intended audience on a deep level – are often those who consciously employ these unconscious archetypes in their work. An entity here in the Hudson Valley that has been taking this approach with great success for nearly 30 years now is Arm-of-the-Sea Theater, melding fragments of myth from many cultures to embody a message that is both contemporary and timeless: that our home planet will cease to nurture us if we go too far in fouling it with the detritus of our civilization.

Arm-of-the-Sea’s artistic toolbox seems largely inspired by the model set by Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater: gigantic stick puppets of mythic figures and actors and dancers in colorful, often outsize masks. Movement, music and narration propel the storyline, in which many-colored threads drawn from tales both familiar and exotic are interwoven to convey this year’s version of an environmental warning whose urgency, sadly, has not waned since the troupe’s founding.

Each year, this Saugerties-based company produces an original theatrical extravaganza known as the Esopus Creek Puppet Suite and takes it on tour to parks, festivals, schools, museums and community centers throughout the region. The 2010 edition of the Puppet Suite, according to the press release, hatches from a Swirling Cosmic Egg, leapfrogs through events in early evolutionary history and the antics of a tribe of hominids who uncover a treasure buried deep under the Earth. When that treasure turns into a raging monster, the hominids must reckon with the consequences and struggle to save their home. The story eventually catches up with a contemporary Egyptian immigrant couple, Isis and Osiris, who run a Soup of the Day shop on the Gulf Coast. When an oil rig explosion creates an ecological nightmare, the pair must summon all their postmodern mythological powers to heal the waters and renew the land.

Wow. Maybe we would’ve gotten quicker results in plugging the recent Deepwater Horizon spill by invoking the powers of ancient Egyptian deities, rather than relying on BP’s ad hoc technological fixes; it’s a thought to bear in mind for next time – and who doubts that there will be a “next time”? (Speaking of which, maybe next time Arm-of-the-Sea or some other artistic entity will provide the link that I’m seeking between the Gulf oil rig site being ironically named “Macondo” and a certain mythical South American town of the same name in Gabriel García Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. In that original capital of the state of Magical Realism, the rains never cease for 11 years, clouds of blue butterflies follow a beautiful young woman around wherever she goes and a rivulet of blood travels through the gutters all the way across town to inform a mother of the death of her son. Surely there’s an environmental theater piece lurking in there somewhere.)

In any case, based on past productions, this year’s Esopus Creek Puppet Suite is bound to be a visually stunning, aurally pleasing and thought-provoking show, and you can catch it at Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park on East Bridge Street in the Village of Saugerties at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, August 13 and 14. Sunday, August 15 is the rain date.

The production is written and directed by Arm-of-the-Sea co-founder Patrick Wadden, with visuals by artistic director Marlena Marallo and music by maestro Dean Jones and friends. The show is performed by Zoe Rowan, Leeann Richards, Jason West, Samantha Hyman, Martha Waterman and Katina Fronheiser. “In our age of hyperlinked communications, this old form of storytelling can still deliver a punch – perhaps because it exists in such stark contrast to the daily media deluge,” says Marallo. “And we are not trying to sell you anything.”

All proceeds from this year’s Suite will benefit Arm-of-the-Sea’s arts-in-education program, which brings performances and workshops to more than 10,000 students each year. Considering the dire straits in which New York’s school districts currently find themselves, with budget lines for anything considered remotely “frilly” slashed in response to the Draconian cuts in state education funding, there couldn’t be a better time to demonstrate some support for these wonderful arts-in-ed programs by jingling a bit of pocket change.

Admission is only $10 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for a family of four. Tickets are available at the park entrance on the evening of the event, and audience members are encouraged to arrive early and bring lawn seating. For more information, including pictures of some of the fabulous puppets, masks and costumes, visit www.ArmoftheSea.org or call (845) 246-7873. Don’t myth it!

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