Lasting satisfaction is elusive in Ignorance
Created and directed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. An Old Trout Puppet Workshop production. At the Cultch on Wednesday, February 29. Continues until March 10
Are you happy? Do you want to be? Do you feel like everyone else is, but you’re not? Those questions form the heart of Ignorance, the latest offering from Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, in which the quest for happiness is as dangerous as it is irresistible.
At the start of the show, a boy reaches for a yellow happy-face balloon that hovers tantalizingly as a narrated voice-over somberly informs us that “most people only experience occasional whiffs of contentment.” He finally grasps the balloon, but his satisfaction is short-lived, snuffed out in a surprisingly gruesome—and hilarious—twist.
“What went wrong?” asks the narrator, and we flash back to a scene of our prehistoric, cave-dwelling ancestors, who “huddled in darkness, smoke and body odour.” Clad in their trademark grey long johns, puppeteers Peter Balkwill, Pityu Kenderes, and Trevor Leigh are always visible. But the operators disappear into a pair of Cro-Magnon puppets, ingeniously assembled from rocks, twigs, and a mass of bushy hair. The Old Trouts’ technical skill shines here as they lend their arms, legs, and expressive grunts and whines to create remarkably textured characterizations.
Scenes of the prehistoric couple, who strike out for the wider world after the woman sees a vision on the cave wall of a tree bearing an enticing apple, are interspersed with vignettes of more contemporary seekers in precarious states: a man on a window ledge, a duelling pair of happiness hunters, and, in one of the most viscerally funny scenes, a clown trying to parallel park. And the Trouts are not precious with their puppets: wooden heads get bashed with disarming regularity.
Cimmeron Meyer’s terrific lighting design, Jamie Nesbitt’s atmospheric projections, and Paul Dutton’s whimsical animation, all showcased on an enormous animal hide stretched across the back wall of a tree-limned cave, add to the show’s visual punch.
But what does it all add up to? There’s no real arc to the narration, which keeps circling back to the same inconclusive conclusions about happiness, and the Paleolithic story becomes tedious before it’s run its course.
Ignorance will almost certainly make you laugh, but lasting satisfaction proves as elusive as that yellow balloon.