Many people may be familiar with the work of Basil Twist and not even know it. You may have seen his handiwork on Broadway in The Pee Wee Herman Show or The Addams Family. He was also a consultant on the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Mr. Twist is not only a master puppeteer but a master of special effects. He brings all of his talent and ingenuity to his production of Petrushka, as presented by Shakespeare Theatre.
Petrushka is the first offering in DC’s Twist Festival. The festival will feature four original pieces by Mr. Twist. Along with Petrushka, the pieces include Symphonie Fantastique, Dogugaeshi, and Arias With A Twist. These pieces will play in various theaters across the city.
Mr. Twist’s Petrushka is unique to be sure. He presents creative ideas and some stunning visuals. However, not all of these visuals seem to mesh.
The audience is presented with a series of abstract scenes at the beginning of the show. It goes on a bit too long and it seems slightly self-indulgent. During the performance this writer attended, it was hard to ignore the restless vibe the audience was emitting during these scenes. It was all murmurs and shifting in chairs until the story really got going.
When the story did get going, it was something to see. All noise stopped when the marvelous oversized puppets appeared. This was when the magic began.
The story begins with Petrushka’s wish to be free of his puppet master. The clown falls into deeper despair when he scares off the ballerina he loves. When the ballerina tempts a fierce moor with her charms, the conflict begins.
At first glance, the presentation of this story is charming – and taken as a whole it is. However, this show was promoted to children as well as adults and there is a seduction scene that some might find inappropriate for children. The scene is not over the top. We are not talking about the puppet sex in Avenue Q. However, it may cause some concern for parents.
The puppets play their scenes to wonderful music performed by a duo of pianists, the Elkina Sisters. Julia and Irina are twin sisters who have played together since childhood. They have provided arrangements that work well with the piece with playing that is lovely and perfectly in sync. It was just as interesting to watch them play the piano as it was to watch the puppets in action.
The eight puppeteers who bring Mr. Twist’s vision to life are clearly talented. They use their whole bodies in this performance. It is obvious that these artists have a lot of skill and stamina.
Even though the piece has a few problems, it is still a striking piece of work. Unfortunately, at the time this review goes to press, Petrushka will have closed after a short run. However, there is more Twist to come during this festival and after seeing Petrushka, there is no doubt it was be a sight to be seen.
For more information about the Twist Festival, visit www.basiltwist.com
Theater and ticket information can be found at www.shakespearetheatre.org
Photo credit: Richard Termine