It takes three puppeteers to bring Moses to life in the partially improvised comedy show 'The Table.' (XueQIAN)
The story of one puppet’s life as told by Moses, a cantankerous little potbellied puppet in black boots, is played out in “The Table,” at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor Thursday-Sunday.
“It began with an idea to see if we could make a show with a puppet on a table, and a puppet that knew he was on a table,” says Mark Down, puppeteer and artistic director of London-based Blind Summit.
It is a story, Down says, that is loosely based on the Bible, playwright Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Ikea, which is where the table was purchased.
Moses has had the life of a children’s puppet but has grown tired of doing fairytales set in Eastern Europe; he wants more for his life. He wants to be seen as a serious puppet.
“So that’s why he grabs an almost impossible story from the Bible,” Down says. “And he gets endlessly distracted, doesn’t get very far in his story.
“But along the way he sort of explores his table, and has a pitch at the meaning of life. But mainly, he sort of falls flat on his face and cracks good jokes.”
Originally created for a production in 1984, Down explains, the puppet was first named Goldstein, and was modeled after Nazi propaganda posters.
“He was going to be the leader of the underground — sort of a hate figure,” he says. “But we ended up not using it because he was too cute.”
The puppet was resurrected as Moses when a Jewish community center in London commissioned the company to produce a 15-minute show for the Seder, the Jewish Passover celebration.
“So we got out this puppet,” Down says, “and in the Seder, it re-enacts the exodus, but they leave Moses out of the story.
“We thought it would be quite interesting to have a puppet on the table, who was Moses, who was re-enacting Moses’ life, and was sort of upset that he’d been left out,” Down explains. The play grew from 15 minutes to the 90-minute production it is now.
The Beckett influence came in as the company realized the manner in which the puppet talks to the audience.
“He could literally stop talking and sort of take an extraordinary kind of ‘Beckett’ pause” — Down takes a long pause as an example — “then start again. So that led us down the road of Moses, ‘Waiting for Godot’ and furniture.
“And he explains to the audience about how he works,” Down continues, “and he shows you around his table, which obviously there’s not a lot to show but he can make a lot out of it. And people just really liked him.”
Down and two other puppeteers operate Moses. Irena Stratieva works the feet and Sean Garratt is the improvisational comedian who makes Moses so funny as he talks to the audience and reacts to the audience’s laughter and silences.
To bring Moses to life, the three puppeteers have to operate fluidly, as one unit.
“And that takes a lot of practicing, arguing, falling out, making up,” Down surmises. “You know, we know each other very well now. We know each others’ armpits.”
Moses’ interactions with the audience give “The Table” an improvisational quality that makes the show a bit different each night.
“We have a basic structure and a story to tell, but it changes from night to night,” Down says. “And there are those times that are just blissful, and he sort of lives on his own, by himself.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Performance Network Theatre
120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor
This show is recommended for ages 14 and older.
Call (734) 764-2538
Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter