This won't show up on Aisle-Say for a week. Use it as you see fit. ---- Women's songs

Women's Songs

Created & Directed by Victor Plotnikov
White Goat, Chelyabinsk, Russia
Perishable Theatre
95 Empire St. Providence RI / (401) 331-2695

Reviewed by Will Stackman

The first offering from the Providence Puppetry Festival, held each year at the Perishable Theatre, around the corner from the better known Trinity Rep, is a Russian troupe first seen in this country in 1993 in San Francisco at national Puppeteers of America Festival. Victor Plotnikov's "White Goat" is in the tradition of miniature puppetry done by fine artists, one of the earliest forms of "performance art", part of the Parisian scene more than a 100 years ago. As such, such work can be hard to judge in conventional theatrical terms.

Fresh from an appearance in NYC at the biennial Henson International Festival, this collection of pieces, "Women's Songs" is elliptical at best; a series of vignettes with occasionally striking images and recurring themes. Angels figure prominently in various guises; open flame signifies passion and results in tragedy. Automata appear alongside often crude "art" puppets, whose sculpture is more important than their movement. Program notes attempt to enlighten the audience, but like the plastic opera glasses handed out to let audience in the back see the smaller puppets, these are best ignored. For the second half, it might have been useful to get actual translations of the lyrics sung doelfully by Plotnik as he trundles his figures about, including two mechanical angels who fly around above, but maybe not.

The strongest single piece is the opening ballet, based on a Russian reworking of Bizet's Carmen Suite. A tiny dancer suspended from a glove, operated by Natasha Tsvetkova, moves continuously about a small circular table top surrounded by wire sculpture animals. A metal rod-marionette soldier, with a burning candle for a heart woos her unsuccessfully. A priapic angles drifts down; she and this feathered being become intimate. The soldier dismembers the angel with a stroke of his sword, and assumes his most prominent attribute. A clockwork creature rests onstage. The dancer and her conqueror ascend and fall to earth. Small candles burning inside the wire animals flicker as the lights go out and the music fades.

Other moments stand out. An oriental dancer, perhaps a spirit made from lights, as ritual Gagaku music plays. A reclings figure turns into the St. Peterburg skyline. The Plotnikov's daughter, 8 year old Kapa Tsvetkova functions as a marionette dressed as an angel, playing a plaintive tune. A peculiar construction based around a tuba and a trombone turned into a miniature tree house, accompanied by plaintive blasts on a real trombone by Belov Sergej, who handles many of the technical effects. Finally, two paper dancers consumed by passion, doused by water falling from above, which incidently reduces the other paper puppets to limp mush. It may be a cliche to say this show is very Russian, but there's no escaping the air of gloom behind the humor.

The evening never quite comes together. The show is like an exhibition of somewhat related works, each showing some promise and even brilliance. The artist clearly knows the traditions of surrealism in which Russian emigres figured prominently. His sculptural gadgets are part of the modern art, but their theatrical promise is not fully realized. The troupe clearly intends to be international, they would benefit from from a dramaturg who could help realise the potential of the imagery employed. This sort of material should amaze; the White Goat only amuses, which may be enough for an evening of experimental theatre.

The rest of the Providence Puppetry Festival should be more exciting. From Sept. 28th through Oct. 1st, Heather Henson returns to Providence bringing "Echo Trace", the result of her work at the National Puppetry Conference in Waterford. The piece involving three movement artists and uses fabric and abstract constructions to explore universal rhythms and the place of the individual within these cycles.. It was also part of the Henson International and features a special score composed and performed by Miguel Frasconi. From Oct. 5th to the 8th, Providence's "Big Nazo", a puppet studio moves on from its puppet-rock comedy-variety format to more intimate show. In fact, they'll probably sit in your lap. They plan to celebrate grosteque beauty, bizarre friendship, and twisted dreams Check out their Website; http:// www.bignazo.com for a preview. Check back here for post-game analysis.