Ten years ago I was honored to perform at an international puppetry festival. These were puppets for adults. The one-man show was my liberal adaptation of a surreal political satire written in 1929 by Michel DeGhelderode, a Belgian.
I delivered my performance from inside an old, boxlike delivery van given to me by a dancer I knew—a tall, lithe, New Jersey guy who’d made good in advertising and needed a tax write-off. I’d met him when he and his wife were dance students performing in a street theater group I’d started…another story.
"Christopher Columbus," this show was called.
I played the title role as a fop in a mask. I was only seen from the chest up. Spot lit. The whole thing could hardly have been more obscure. For me, I guess, that was part of the attraction.
A baroque four-foot by six, gold-painted proscenium framed me with a sculpted mermaid, starfish and anemones posed on the submerged steps to an underwater theater.
Mussel-encrusted columns supported roiling waves on top, where two medieval sea monsters met, one smiling, and the other sad. It was all carved and molded from insulation foam and a cellulose-based clay.
Beside Columbus, the half dozen other characters in the play—a poet, priest, banker, king, etc., even Montezuma—were all hand puppets that I slipped on and off as they made their entrances and exits.
The puppets were changed at my lap’s level, outside the audience’s line of vision. In like manner, I pulled lines that brought the scenery in and out, cued up music, adjusted the lights, opened and closed the black satin curtain.
I spoke to whatever character was represented by my puppeted hand—sometimes two at once—and my hand spoke to me. It was a one-man show.