Philippe Genty is no ordinary French puppeteer. He is visited by demons. And by thoroughly fantastic visions.
He toured the Southland in a peripheral sort of way in 1980, '81 and '83--at UC Riverside, Westchester High and Citrus College. But Genty deserved the mainstream. And now he'll get it.
Compagnie Philippe Genty opens at the Westwood Playhouse Dec. 20 with a new show called, for no particular reason, "Desirs Parade" ("Parade Desires" or "Desires Parade"--your choice; it won't make any more sense one way or the other). The show previews Dec. 19 and plays through Jan. 10.
By any title, Genty's art is hard to define. It's the way he likes it. Don't look for lineal logic or story. It's all done with subtext, usually dark. In the 1981 show, a bony fossil in the hands of a sleeper gripped by nightmare was transformed into a huge amorphous blob that totally engulfed him. Later, a melancholy Pierrot committed suicide by ripping himself loose, string by string, from his puppeteer.
Genty pursues the phantasmagoria in all of our twilight zones. Critic Colette Goddard of the Paris daily Le Monde likened his work to "a Disneyland in the grip of a debauchery more malicious than perverse." Just as rapidly Genty will create a totally comic sendup, leaving his audience startled by the clash of styles. Le Quotidien's Elisabeth Semond places Genty's work "somewhere between the Living Theatre and traditional puppetry." It's Kafka meets Buster Keaton.
This collision course should be evident in " Desirs Parade ," which comes in three parts: the metamorphosis of "Chrysalis," the mystery of "Vertigo" and the burlesque of "Waltz of the Deck Chairs."
Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Genty insists he is not a philosopher but an illusionist. In his creations, objects and people can't be counted on to remain what they seem. Control is deliberately hard to pinpoint. Who is the puppet, who the puppeteer? It's a subjective, unstable world, shadowy and exotic, sometimes funny.
The Great Controller, of course, is puppet master Genty, who, though only in his 40s, stopped performing and touring about three years ago to devote himself exclusively to inventing and writing this stuff.
The choreographer is Mary Underwood. Music is by Rene Aubry and the on-stage dancer/actor/puppeteers, who create these fantasies, are Alain Clement, Patrick Henniquau, Agnes Neel and Emmanuel Plassard. Arthur Shafman is the producer. He also introduced us to the uncommon pleasures of "Mummenschanz."
Think of " Desirs Parade " as a mini-extension of the Los Angeles International Festival--here to uplift and confound our holidays.
SINGLE SHOTS: "Make-Up," a one-woman show written by Japan's Hisashi Inoue, directed by Koichi Kimura and featuring Misako Watanabe, will be performed in Japanese at USC's Bovard Auditorium on Friday. This Shitamachi no Kabuki solo (a form referred to as working-class or peasant-style Kabuki) shows us an actress preparing for a role, as the lines between her real and stage lives blur more and more.
Supratitles in English will enable audiences to follow the story. Other dates for "Make-Up" are at Carlsbad Community Arts Center Saturday, San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company Monday and Tuesday, and Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana next Thursday and Dec. 11. . . .
Also in for one night Friday at Pasadena's Beckman Auditorium is the irrepressible San Francisco Mime Troupe with its latest bit of musical foreign policy: "The Mozamgola Caper"--all you never wanted to know but should not be afraid to enjoy about U.S. involvement in African politics.
Finally, there will be a special performance of "The Gospel Truth" today at 1 p.m. before a captive audience: the inmates of Los Angeles County Jail. . . .
PARTING SHOTS: The La Jolla Playhouse's Performance Outreach Production (POP) of "Silent Edward," which has been touring San Diego schools, will play a special engagement at the Warren Theatre on the UC San Diego campus Dec. 27-31. The musical was written and composed by none other than La Jolla artistic director Des McAnuff. It also marks the first time the company will perform for the public in the winter months.
-Playwrights Thomas Babe ("Father and Sons"), Amlin Gray ("How I Got That Story") and Eric Overmyer ("On the Verge") have been commissioned by South Coast Repertory to write plays for the Costa Mesa theater. Ten playwrights are currently doing just that for SCR, which has given out 22 commissions in 24 years.
-The West Coast Ensemble, which took over the former mortuary that once housed American Theatre Arts at the corner of Argyle Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, is the recipient of a "Most Improved Business" award from Councilman Michael Woo's office. (Other winners were Capitol Records, the Screen Actors Guild and the Brown Derby.) "Most Improved" applies to the condition of the building and the West Coast Ensemble is now working on making it apply to the condition of the box office. Kidding aside, design for the face lift was by Nicholas Dorr with neon by Tim Ottman.
-And guess who's doing theater and film criticism for New York City's WNEW AM radio these days? Former Los Angeles theater operator and mime Richmond Shepard. It obviously takes a man of no words to do the job.