Kid enkidu, the new production by the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, is a lyrical and material collaboration, a stretch of differently colored threads, among the imaginatively tangled stories of the Epic of Gilgamesh, supreme Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, Walt Whitman’s poetry, The Little Prince, and the electric, humming dream brain of a young child.
A small, young boy in burlap brown and wrapped around his middle by some of the red string that litters the very front of the stage in loose balls and scattered spools, loses his friend, another small boy in dark blue and paler blue strings who presumably bears the name of the show’s title (if we’re following the attachment to the Epic of Gilgamesh), while they are lost or exploring the woods.
The play with scale and size, on the part of director Bart Buch and the crew of performers and set designers behind him, is lovely to absorb. Stars and animal footprints assemble into constellations of light against the walls and curtains of the stage. Four large foxes (performers wearing large, over the head masks) follow and surround the two boys for the length of the play, holding pictures of the stars and large, pink paper flowers in bloated vases. They bobble and dance like a clean, eager kind of water around a tortoise shell the size of a small car. Two white donkey heads peer, only with their cartoonish heads, out at the audience. An orange patterned deer leaps across the stage with the help of a puppeteer. A giant buffalo steaming bright, bright colors lumbers up to one of the boys and seems about to grunt, a hairy bear is surrounded by silvery jumping fish.
The boys, in comparison to these animal figures, to the sprawl of the sky that is returned and returned to the audience, are so tiny. They are approximately half the size of the puppeteers who are delightfully visible but covered from head to toe, beekeeper style, in white cloth. Of course, there is a long, familiar legacy within our stories, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream for instance, of nature being a place where the imagination can suddenly and almost dangerously pursue its real limits, where sleep and confusion bring on wonder and the thick breathing of (real or imagined) transformation.
The boys themselves change in size as they search and search for each other between the branches and trees. They shrink into what would traditionally be called “puppet size” and also disappear into shadowed outlines behind bunches of opaque curtains that are pushed and pulled around the stage by the amused foxes. The boy in brown swells up and crawls on stage, suddenly the same size as some of the animal guardians, dragging behind him, larger and wider pieces of red ribbon. The faces of the separated boys become illuminated constellations in the sky being cast against the walls and stage. Their faces are surrounded by words from poems and the animals holding up small paper boards with additional, smaller pictures of the glowing constellations. The music, played live by composer Tom Woodling, swells and circles, changing size as often as the animals and boys do, but never losing its intensity.
What does the wonder and wandering of such episodes push into us? What do we see in this tale that haunts us, that we retell and rearrange so often and with awe every time? A reminder that any search for someone specific, a friend and a love that has been obscured, means touching, encountering, and casting attention onto the worlds that surround us, that envelop us, that hold us gently between their sparkly and easily knotted threads. A search for something specific, a friend and a love that has been obscured, is never actually a search for something small. It must be an opening up, a giving and a bleeding into a bigger and complex forest of sensation that we can’t necessarily control, despite our constant efforts to do just that in our everyday stumblings.
Kid enkidu is a beautiful, twisty piece of night. At the end, banners fly off the main stage and flood rainbow light above the audience. The strings of such a show will linger and pull at the colors of your chest, at the imagination ready to seep out your skin.