Phantom Limb is by far one of the coolest puppetry companies I’ve seen—their projects are hip, layered, and inventive. I remember being blown away by their minutes-long Dear Mme a few short years ago at the wonderful Toy Theatre Festival at St. Ann’s.
Their revived piece, The Fortune Teller (originally from 2006) at HERE, was brought back just in time for Halloween, and rightfully so: equal parts Edward Gorey, Clue, and Saw, the piece recounts the gathering of seven local dregs (each representing, of course, a deadly sin) for the unique execution of a will. Each beneficiary is to have his part of the will delivered by a fortune teller (who looks remarkably like Jigsaw). Each meets with a gruesome demise, apropos of his sin. Natch. What does fortune telling have to do with seeing out a will? How did the deceased plan for this series of unfortunate events?
In the end, one doesn’t really care—the form entirely overtakes the content. Erik Sanko’s marionettes are beautiful and creepy, each a fantastic caricature that reveals the dirty, unseemly side. The material of each puppet (wood?) is breaking through whatever décor provided in the way of costume and paint. We can see the decaying insides, in other words, of a sinful individual.
The puppeteer work brilliantly plays between the need for virtuosity and silliness, there are lots of meta jokes for puppet lovers (including a Freudian hatred for others thanks to Punch and Judy and the first puppet-within-a-puppet performance I’ve ever seen), and the Danny Elfman score can only be described as Elfmanesque (what that means is up to you).
I wanted more intellectual and artistic heft from Phantom Limb, but The Fortune Teller hits all the right notes for dark, holiday fun, and I quickly forgive them for their not-so-original sin (I know: my eyes rolled at the pun too. But I had to. You understand), and I am freaking out with anticipation to return to the West Coast to catch The Composer Is Dead.