Lincoln Center Festival
There’s a reason why puppets have survived for so many millennia; like mimes, they distill and display our primal emotions, put us in touch with our childhood wonder, and spin out their tales in an intense shorthand that living actors cannot always match. Their smaller-than-life protagonists shine brightest in playing out the grandest stories.
Hand Stories has some big topics for us: the cruelty of China’s Cultural Revolution; the cruelty of struggling to live in an America besotted by money and pop culture; and especially the great value of tradition and close family ties that transcends eras and national borders.
It’s fair to say that Yeung Faϊ is truly a magician. In his hands, his cohort of exquisitely built and costumed silent little people become eloquent. They play out historical Chinese myths, fighting, flirting, laughing, maneuvering their tiny swords and fans like lightning, giving us a glimpse of characters who have survived for centuries while “speaking” to the here-and-now.
When Yeung switches to our own era, his brilliance extends not only to the antics of his puppets, but to the ways in which he finds visual metaphors for complex events. The Revolution is played by a marvelous dragon with silver scales; as an artist/villain of the Revolution, his father is made to wear a dunce cap and a confessional signboard; when Yeung performs on the streets of New York, he, too, wears a sign: “Fifth Generation Puppet Master.” But in a city where tradition is unimportant, his only audience is a puppet angel who gives advice with a New York accent, while demanding money for the favor.
His imagination is both playful and heart-breaking. Some of the puppets carry tiny puppets of their own which, by sleight of Yeung’s hands, live an independent life. For one scene, he uses the back of a puppet stage as a cramped prison cell where he must curl up with a copy of Chairman Mao’s little red book; he uses the back of another stage to represent his subsequent “freedom” in America—an equally cramped room, covered with newspapers—all he can afford. It’s not surprising he has chosen to live offstage in Hong Kong and France
Like most of the Festival’s events, it’s ars longa and vita brevis; Yeung’s consummate artistry (and that of his stage colleague, Yoann Pencolế, and the production crew) is really fleeting: You have only two days to share his keen imagination and the alchemy of his hands (July 24—25, at the Clark Studio Theater). Make haste! Tickets