”Shatterer of Worlds’ – An Intriguing Experience (4 Stars)

“The Shatterer of Worlds”, Produced by Bread and Puppet Theatre at Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston, through February 2nd

Following the performance of “The Shatterer of Worlds”, Bread and Puppet Theatre’s 50th anniversary show now playing at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, I was chatting with one of the cast members, Tom Pruneau, an old comedy buddy from an earlier life. “What did you think?” he asked. “I think I’ve reached that age where I don’t have to understand something to think it’s interesting and cool,” I said. “That sounds about right,” he said. “But it did make you think, didn’t it?”

It certainly did. “Shatterer” apparently draws its name from a quote from the Bhagavad Gita that was quoted by Robert Oppenheimer after he witnessed the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo in 1945. “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One…I am become Death – The shatterer of worlds.” This quote is repeated by the lead character in what could be described as a moving art exhibition/performance art piece. And while it may not be clear how this quote relates to the piece as a whole, it is really secondary to the total experience, as this production really defies description.

Set in the cavernous, high ceilinged, larger-than a football-field Cyclorama, the show opens in a far corner of the space with the group’s leader conducting an eight piece band of trumpets, french horns, a saxophone, a snare and a bass drum playing a beautiful piece (that I did not recognize). He then proclaims something about the 1% in a vaguely Eastern European (German?) accent, and a woman appears with a long stick to start up what appears to be a very clever looking perpetual motion machine, but is actually a clock. We are then led into the Shatterer Chapel of Naturalization Services for Applicants Requesting Citizenship in The Shattered Worlds. It is there that we meet the puppets, or more accurately, giant papier mache masks that are painted with tortured faces that look like some sort of African death masks. Some of the masks are larger than twenty feet tall, and scale downward to life sized people to babies.
There is a cast of 20-30 members who man the masks, form crowds and engage in beautiful choral singing. There are a couple of puppet shows that the cast (as the great unwashed, presumably) watches, as well as some pretty strange puppet psychodramas (with a pretty cool beheading) performed.

There is also a narrative piece where a woman sits behind a desk in a 40’s noir-style, dimly lit office complete with some sort of vague low tech machines, and she appears to be processing immigrants applications in a fairly detached and dehumanizing manner. If none of this makes sense to you, that’s OK, because it really doesn’t have to have a well-defined plot line to hold your interest. The whole performance is like some weird dream, but it’s really compelling. Bread and Puppet uses the entire space, and the audience follows the action around (A “walkabout” performance) and needs to keep on its toes to avoid being part of the action. If you’re mobility impaired, this could be a challenge, but the show runs a little over an hour, so for most it shouldn’t be a problem.

After the show, (and true to its name), Bread & Puppet feeds the audience – you guessed it – sourdough bread. From what I hear, the bread was fantastic, but it disappeared before I finished chatting with my friend. The server told me that many had returned for second, third and fourth helpings. This is not a show for everyone, particularly if you’re looking for a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back type of show. But it is – as I stated earlier – really interesting and cool. For more info, go to: http://breadandpuppet.org/reviews-of-nyc-50th-anniversary-events . To see a brief trailer, go to: http://vimeo.com/75177278