Torry Bend’s If My Feet Have Lost the Ground is a fascinating work of puppetry and technology that speaks to the heart. The human heart as metaphor for the very core of existence. The current Streetsigns Center for Literature and Performance production, now playing at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, seems to suggest that the heart is a lonely place, constantly reaching out to touch other hearts, to know other humans.
We found the storyline hard to follow, which may be accounted for by the age disparity between ourselves and the generation from which this form of expression arises. The mechanics of the performance are extremely well done, with four puppeteers manipulating a single doll — sometimes all four — at once as she moves through her day pursuing, apparently, contact. The terrain in which she functions is created in a variety of ways, including an electronic screen, managed like a flip-board, in which a three-dimensionality somehow becomes multidimensional as parts of scenes are repeated, either as shadow pieces or in off-set multi-reality.
This remarkable set was also designed by Torry Bend. The performers work hard and swiftly and with agility and precision. Jamie Bell, Drina Dunlap, Amanda Murray, and Becky Woodrum not only make the puppet move through a daily life; but they are also incredibly busy building and unbuilding the set as the story moves on. Kudos for this outstanding work. There was one small mishap, from which they artfully recovered, in the course of the 80-minute nonstop show that we witnessed.
Author/director Torry Bend relates that the inspiration for the piece came about from her receiving some responses to a hundred anonymous letters that she left throughout the country, inviting people to read them and reply if they wished. That people did reply, and replied baring themselves of intimacies (which she never describes), touched her deeply and thus gave rise to this artistic expression. It is, indeed, lovely to watch, sometimes puzzling, often humorous, mostly mildly, gently emotionally engaging. Absolutely worthy of our applause.
Interestingly, although the story appears to be about how those responses affected her, Torry the artist, those intimacies, which could have involved confessions of crimes or discourtesies, or having been victimized or having lost a love or even simple confessions of loneliness, never appear in the show. The one connection made is with with an older woman — perhaps, the doll in old age? Or, perhaps, a stranger? We can’t be sure.
The action is enhanced by the wide variety of music and sound effects of Jil Christensen. The clever video design, which plays a predominate role in the show comes from Raquel Salvatella De Padra and Jon Haas. Lighting designer Liz Droessler has lived up to her usual high standards. The puppet designer/builders are Anna Nickles and Sarah Krainin.
This is a most unusual theatrical experience that is not so far out as to leave anyone behind. In short, it is well worth the time and the ticket.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/if-my-feet-have-lost-the-ground/Event?oid=4264365; Oct. 18th Durham, NC Five Point Star preview by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/10/18/hearts-and-flowers-torry-bends-magic/; and Oct. 16th Durham, NC Duke Chronicle (student newspaper) preview by Dillon Fernando: http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2014/10/16/duke-professor-and-puppeteer-presents-final-production-manbites-dog.
StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance presents IF MY FEET HAVE LOST THE GROUND, a new puppetry performance created and directed by Torry Bend, at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 24, 2 and 8:15 p.m. Oct. 25, 2 p.m. Oct. 26; 8:15 p.m. Oct. 29-31, and 2 and 8:15 p.m. Nov. 1 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $10 Weeknights and $20 Friday-Sunday, with $2 discount seniors 62+ and $5 weeknight and Friday-Sunday discounts for students.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
SHOW: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/if-my-feet-have-lost-the-ground/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/302136399992932/.
PRESENTER: http://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/#!streetsigns/c247l, https://www.facebook.com/streetsignscenter, and https://twitter.com/StreetSignsCtr.
VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
Torry Bend (puppetry performance creator and director): https://www.facebook.com/torry.bend (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.