By Kay Kipling

While RIAF occasionally presents bigger shows, the performances here are often a reminder of how much can be done with minimal set or props, a small ensemble with talent, and a clever idea.

Such is the case with The Table, presented by Blind Summit Theatre, which I saw yesterday afternoon. Its director, Mark Down, joins with two other puppeteers—Sean Garratt and Laura Caldow—and an extraordinary puppet drawn from the Japanese bunraku tradition to offer 70 minutes of highly watchable fun.

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Puppet Moses in The Table.[/caption]

The puppet is named Moses, and yes, he does appear on a table—just an ordinary, rectangular table, upon which the puppeteers manipulate him while purporting to relate something of the story of the real Moses and the Exodus in which he played such a huge role, only to die without entering the Promised Land and end up buried in an unmarked grave by a God who doesn’t believe in sharing the glory. (The idea for The Table sprang from a commission by the Jewish Community Centre in London, where the theater company hails from, and the “table” also refers to the Seder table at Passover.)

But much of The Table moves far from the Biblical Moses’ story, as Down voices a rather gruff, jokey, even a bit randy Moses who introduces us to various sections of the table (“here’s the garden”), interacts with a female audience member in the front row, and delves into the finer points of puppetry, explaining the crucial elements of focus, breathing and fixed point. All three are part of what makes us, the audience, absolutely believe that a puppet of cardboard and cloth is leading the puppeteers, not the other way around.

The show also incorporates some far from Biblical references, dropping famous names like Madonna, Tom Cruise and the band Genesis, for example. It’s quite remarkable how involved in Moses’ little world we end up becoming.

In the evening, I attended a performance by Keigwin + Company (choreographer Larry Keigwin was also responsible for the opening night Bolero Sarasota using local participants). The six-member ensemble dancing here brought to us mostly pieces dealing with sex, love and relationships, from the opening Mattress Suite, which features, as you might guess, a mattress as a key piece of the concept. It can become a battleground, we find, whether it’s for a female and male couple (Ashley Browne and Matthew Baker) or a triumvirate of males (Baker again, with Brandon Cournay and Kile Hotchkiss); and it can even be a character, as when Brown performs a pas deux of sorts with it in the piece At Last. (This suite, like other pieces in the production, makes great use of music both classical and popular, from Verdi to Eartha Kitt.)

Contact Sport also says much about coupling and uncoupling in various combinations, as does Love Songs, where the upper hand in the war of the sexes is always changing. Both demonstrate Keigwin’s gift for lively, fun but occasionally bittersweet moves and storytelling. While all the dancers are excellent, I found Baker and Jaclyn K. Walsh particular standouts here.

The last piece of the evening, Triptych, utilizing the whole ensemble, felt like a rather jarring departure from the tone and style of the preceding works, with a tenser, even rather threatening feel in movements sometimes mechanical. But that doesn’t mean it was any less impressive; just different. The audience responded with a standing ovation that felt well earned.

More RIAF coverage to come as the weekend continues.

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