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    The Ballad of Phineas P. Gage

    Rod and real

    "The Ballad of Phineas B. Gage" revisits the true story of a 19th-century man impaled through the brain by an iron rod, involving both puppets and their handlers in some amazing theatrical moments.


    In 1848, Phineas P. Gage became a medical curiosity and something of a folk hero when a three-and-a-half-foot iron rod pierced and passed through his skull and brain. He survived the accident and lived for years, but his personality seemed fundamentally changed, sparking a debate about the structure of the brain, the seat of the soul, and the nature of the human self.

    Design and Puppetry Direction by: Gretchen Van Lente.
    Music Direction by: Joshua Goodman.
    Lighting Design by: Alison Brummer.
    Shadows/projections by: Leslie Klingner.
    Written by: Crystal Skillman.
    Directed by: Tessa Leigh Derfner.
    Cast: Julia Balestracci, Bryan Brown, Ryan Ganiman, Serra Hirsch, Jason Howard, David Michael Friend, Jennifer Kankiewicz, Molly Kohl, Bill Stout, Gretchen Van Lente.
    Design and Puppetry Direction by: Gretchen Van Lente.
    Music Direction by: Joshua Goodman.
    Lighting Design by: Alison Brummer.
    Shadows/projections by: Leslie Klingner.

    Related links: Official site
    145 Sixth Ave.
    April 11-28, 2002

    With this story, Drama of Works has found an ideal subject for their ongoing project of exploring and subverting the distinction between actor and puppeteer. To what degree is the self dependent on biology? Is the "soul" a function of the body or is the body animated by the soul? When Phineas awakens after the accident, he tries to speak but is unable to form the words. Frustrated and confused, he turns to his puppeteer (Jason Howard) to find out what's going on. The puppeteer looks back, startled at being acknowledged and unable to provide any answers. When Phineas's doctor falls asleep at his desk, his puppeteer (David Michael Friend) steps away from the puppet and acts out the dream center-stage.

    The production utilizes a huge variety of puppet designs and techniques. The actor/puppeteers are always in full view and well-lit, the mechanisms of the art of puppetry visible throughout the show. For several of the performers, the relationship between puppet and puppeteer seems to be a tangible one; there is a real sense of protective concern. The set is simple and flexible, the puppets often far more elaborate. Joshua Goodman's music contributes to the feel of frontier America as well as the sense of fun that results when a bunch of friends get together to put on a play.

    More than a few times, my guest and I quietly said, "Oh, cool!"  

    I saw the show at the very beginning of the run and there were a few rough patches. I suspect, though, that the flubbed lines and sour notes will even themselves out, and probably already have by the time you are reading this. This high-energy, carefully crafted show is thought-provoking and entertaining. There are some beautiful moments and some silly moments, even a few shocking ones. Mostly, though, the excitement of this production is in the puppetry itself, and in being allowed to witness the man behind the curtain; more than a few times, my guest and I quietly said, "Oh, cool!" Drama of Works invites the audience to re-examine their notions of theatrical structure and method without seeming self-important or compromising accessibility. Innovative techniques playfully applied to a straightforward yarn of a narrative made for a good-natured and imaginative entertainment.

    It seems likely that this company will be around for a number of years to come; this project was funded by several high-profile sources. If you go see them now, you'll be able to say you knew about them before everybody did.

    APRIL 18, 2002

    Reader comments on The Ballad of Phineas P. Gage:

  • Thanks for Great Phineas P. Gage review.   from Joshua Goodman><br> , Apr 22, 2002

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