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In Show Your Face!, a group of eastern European performing artists bring a small snowsuit to life and send it on an journey of discovery. "It started out really cute," my friend Katie said afterwards, "and then there was the puppet rape."
Show Your Face!, an acclaimed production by the troupes Betontanc and Umka.lv with music by Silence, opens the Walker Art Center's 2011 Out There series, an annual showcase for inventive performers from around the world. It's a tough show. At the conclusion of Friday night's performance, the audience at the Walker's McGuire Theater—a venue that attracts a crowd it's reasonable to call "open-minded"—applauded softly and haltingly, seeming not quite sure if they really wanted to celebrate what they'd just seen.
|show your face!, presented through january 8 at the walker art center. for tickets ($22) and information, see walkerart.org.|
Using a combination of puppetry and live performance, several performers tell the story of the nameless, faceless, penis-less (we are informed) character who was cast out by his horrified mother upon birth, then somehow grew into an urbane, passionate soul who's hounded across the country by government agents who arbitrarily proclaim him an enemy of the state. He witnesses murders, he's captured and tortured, and he ultimately—we learn this at the outset—gets blown to pieces. There's a love scene, and there's the aforementioned rape scene. It ain't The Lonely Goatherd.
The production's means are conceived as synonymous with its ends. In Show Your Face!, puppetry isn't just a means of storytelling, it's a metaphor for the human condition. There are numerous moments of technical invention and stylistic flair, and the show's complicated logistics are executed flawlessly. How interested you are in the production's themes and message will depend a lot on how interested you would be in the prospect of spending an evening curled up with a bottle of vodka and a Kafka novel.
The live music by Silence sets an appropriately dark, poignant mood, but it's often intrusive. Call me cold-hearted, but when the invisible army was machine-gunning row after row of peaceful protesters, I wished they would do a 180 and take out the keening saxophonist and the moaning vocalist Boris Benko, who sounds like David Bowie at his most pretentiously ominous. But they didn't, and the music swelled as the little Josef Pre-K kept on running.